By DON STINE
Neptune’s Shark River Hills area was hit particularly hard during Superstorm Sandy and one year later residents are still in various stages of recovery.
The storm, which hit the Jersey Shore on Oct. 29, was the second-costliest in American history, resulting in about $65 billion in damage. Large sections of the Jersey Shore were impacted, with everything from minor damage to total destruction.
Low-lying areas in Shark River Hills, adjacent to the Shark River, saw heavy damage during the high storm surge and some people are still displaced one year later.
Neptune Chief Financial Officer Michael Bascom said that more than 300 homes were damaged in the Shark River Hills area during the storm and that about 50 still remain damaged and unoccupied.
“Most have made a dramatic recovery yet there are a good number of people still struggling to return to their homes and we are still working toward getting them fixed up,” he said.
Bascom said owners of the unoccupied homes are having a combination of problems getting back in, with some not having the money to do a mandatory raising of their house or they are still waiting for insurance or state assistance.
“Some are just putting up for sale signs and let it be the next person’s problem,” he said.
Amy Peardon, Valley Road, said there are still a number of problems with homes in her neighborhood and that some residents may be unaware of problems that exist but remain undiscovered.
For example, Peardon needed a new retaining wall, a new driveway, and a fence after Sandy but she did not realize that there was roof damage over her garage and that the ceiling subsequently collapsed in the spring.
“I thought I was almost completely done. I was able to reopen my homeowner’s insurance claim to offset the cost, which people can do if they move quickly enough. But many people may have damage they are not even aware of right now. As time progresses, they may find even more damage. Some things don’t appear right in the beginning,” she said.
Peardon said she was unable to collect any Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) money because she had no water inside her home, with damage mostly to her yard and exterior structures. Instead, she had to apply for a low-interest federal Small Business Administration loan.
“I am one of those people right on the edge. There are still a lot of dumpsters around and I have had some problems with contractors- so it has taken a really long time,” she said.
Peardon said people near her house are still making the decision whether or not to raise their home up by as much as nine feet. Failure to raise a structure may result in costly insurance premiums.
“But each house has its own problems. Financial issues can change from resident to resident- one can get grant money and others have to fund projects themselves. Some have big structural problems to raise their homes,” she said.
She said others are waiting for grant or insurance money, see waiting to see if they qualify for grant money, and some are trying to get repair estimates together.
“There is still a long way to go for some people but things are slowly working themselves out,” she said.
Mary Ann Ocello, Melrose Avenue, had five feet of water in her house from Sandy and everything on her downstairs level was destroyed. The family stayed in the upper level because they had nowhere to go and wanted to keep their son in his school.
“It was depressing and not good- it still makes me sad to think about it. We were without power for 19 days and had no heat for about a month. We were going house-to-house just to get a hot shower,” she said.
Ocello said that they did receive enough FEMA and insurance money to offset repair costs and that they were finally able to occupy the house’s lower level in late July.
“We are just now getting back to normalcy because it has taken a long time to get our home repaired. We just now want to take a breath and get back to normal,” she said.
Ocello said she and her husband have not yet decided whether to raise their house or not.
“We are not sure who would pay for it. We have no idea if our insurance will go up if we don’t. We are just trying to get our house done and we haven’t gotten to that stage yet,” she said.
Ocello said that she has been offered money from the a Sandy-relief organization but they have not accepted it yet because they are not sure what their next move will be. She is unable to go up stairs and raising their house creates that condition.
“One neighbor has already raised their house and another is under contract to do it. Another homeowner sold their property and I don’t think the new owner plans to raise the house. Our biggest challenge now is worrying about raising our house,” she said.
Township officials and the Shark River Hills Property Owners Association have been very helpful during the entire ordeal, she said.
Overall, Bascom said he believes the township response to Sandy was “phenomenal.”
“We were not overly dependent on county or state resources and managed to take care of our own. When needed, we got to those in need,” he said.
Bascom said the public works department has been doing a great job, and he cites repairs to parks and playgrounds; at the municipal marina, which was destroyed; and the overall cleanup of the township.
“And we are still out there helping residents with FEMA and insurance claims and pointing the right way to get more assistance,” he said.