May 6, 2013
April 4, 2013 -- Mantoloking, NJ
Just one of thousands of homes destroyed by the storm. More pictures here.
It’s worse than I expected. I saw all the news reports about Super Storm Sandy on TV, of course, and talked with friends and family about their experiences. But that didn’t prepare me for what I'm seeing. Actually standing amid the ruin is an entirely different experience than seeing it on the news.
One of my first stops today is Mantoloking, N.J. a place considered by many to be “ground zero” for the storm. I walk along the coastline, with its pristine white Jersey sand and fresh tracks from the heavy equipment used to groom the beach. But right next to the perfect beaches of my childhood are huge piles of debris. No, wait -- that’s wrong. The debris isn't next to the beach, it is on top of it. There is no “land” here; it’s all beach. It’s all sand, broken up in places by asphalt or stones or wooden decks, but under that, it’s just more sand. And the piles aren’t debris – they are entire houses, or what’s left of them. You know it’s a house because, well, what else could it be? You can see the roof, the doors, the wires, and the furniture. But it’s all mixed up and tangled. It’s deeply unsettling.
And it’s everywhere. House after house destroyed, piled up like yard waste after a spring cleanup. The houses that aren’t completely shredded are tilting or cracked, in some unnatural state. And they are all deserted, even the ones that appear intact. If they didn’t fall down or get washed away they took on water. They’re uninhabitable. Where are the people?
(More pictures showing the storm's devastation can be found here: Storm Photos )
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Unless you drive down Rt. 35, the pictures seen on the media really don't have the same impact of seeing house after house after house destroyed. We've all seen images of nature's destruction in other parts of the country, but they've been abstract, isolated concepts to those of us not living in those areas. And the most dramatic damage here has been to huge multimillion dollar homes - not the small ranch or double-wides homes that are usually the normal victims of nature's wrath - these are homes that you've seen as you've driven by since you were a child. We'd all pick out our favorite houses, the one's that we'd buy "when we have a lot of money"; now, I can't even tell where our favorite houses stood.
Seeing the breakthrough of the ocean into the bay at the Mantoloking bridge made me physically sick. There was something just so absolutely wrong about seeing that destruction at the foot of a bridge that I've driven over many, many times.
I hope, when you do your reporting on the recovery, you mention how many homeowners down the coast aren't actually getting any FEMA, SBA, or other emergency assistance because they are second-home owners, and that group is basically excluded from most of the aid programs. All those repairs are being paid out-of-pocked and via home-equity loans. Most of those "second-home owners" are not wealthy; they're just folks who bought a place down the shore so they wouldn't have to rent anymore for their family summer vacations, could get some rental income to cover part of the running costs of the place, and to have a place to retire to when costs in other areas of NJ outpaced their income. For some of those "second-home owners", they're not going to be able to afford to repair and keep their homes because there's no assistance available to them.
Something else to mention is the fact that unless you had flood insurance, most of the insurance companies have weaseled out of paying for a lot of the damage because they are blaming everything on water damage. And so many people's rebuilding/repairing plans are on hiatus because the insurance companies are dragging their feet, not to mention that most of them still don't have a firm idea of how high their homes and cottages have to be elevated to meet whatever the finalized height guidelines will be.
My family's cottage was seriously damaged and all the repairs that have been done so far have been paid by bank loans because we didn't have any flood insurance. We've been luckier than most because we didn't have to elevate and because the folks in my family have enough building skills to do a lot of the work on their own, so we haven't been socked with labor costs. It looks like we'll be able to vacation down the shore this summer, but so many other cottages in our community will be empty because they are nowhere near being repaired and ready to be used.
It will be a very strange summer down the shore this year....
The destruction is heartbreaking, unquestionably.
I'd appreciate reading why these homes should be re-built on their sites. To a large extent, they never should have been allowed to have been built. Similarly, the federal flood insurance allows construction where it shouldn't occur -- stream flood plains. Would you build your home on a freeway and expect it to remain undamaged?
By engaging in this activity, TOH is enabling an unsound policy. It wouldn't recommend unsound construction practices, why this? The better use of its resources would be educating its viewers about sound land use decisions and working to compensate owners for lost property. The compensation could be used to purchase homes in responsible locations. See Maryland's program for dealing with homes placed at risk by cliff erosion on the Chesapeake Bay: http://www.somdnews.com/article/20130508/NEWS/130509043/1057/first-of-cliff-homes-now-set-for-demolition&template=southernMaryland
@McHarg - That's sort of like asking why people have farms near rivers that flood, or build homes in mountainous areas where they could be hit by avalanches, or live in wooded areas where their homes could be destroyed by wildfires. All those people live in areas where the location provides something essential to their living experience. The same is true for people who have homes along the coast. We are the people who like to be out in the sun on the beach, like to go swimming in the oceans and the bays, like to do salt-water fishing, like to go boating and sailing. We like to live and vacation in the areas where we can do those things and not have to spend hours (we are the most densely populated state in the US, after all) stuck in traffic (polluting the air, BTW) traveling to those locations on a daily basis in order to achieve that.
The only people I've heard question why we should rebuild at the beach have been people who've never spent much or any time down there, and don't understand the "fuss" and only see the cost of rebuilding after storm damage. But ask anyone who spent their childhood vacations at the shore. They know that being able to live at the shore for any amount of time is an experience that shouldn't be lost, and is also something that is quintessential to being a New Jerseyan.
That link that you provided is about a scenario that's different from the one at the Jersey shore. Those houses on the cliff faced a predictable rate of destruction based upon ongoing erosion. Shore communities along the East Coast face more of a crapshoot as to whether or not they are going to get hit by a major hurricane in one, five, ten, twenty, or fifty years. Also, I thought that it was amusing that your suggestion the whole premise of including that link was sort of shot in the foot by the actions of the homeowners themselves who moved to a "new waterfront property". Hmm...out of the frying pan and into the fire?
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