NPR Story
5:29 pm
Fri October 18, 2013

Mixed Bag As Communities Continue Sandy Recovery

Originally published on Mon October 14, 2013 4:08 pm

It’s been nearly a year since superstorm Sandy slammed into the northeast coast.

When it comes to rebuilding and recovery efforts along the New Jersey shore,  it’s been a mixed bag.

Some homes and businesses look like the storm never hit. Others look like it came ashore just yesterday.

So those residents who are able to return home often find themselves moving back into strangely empty neighborhoods.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Tracey Samuelson of WHYY in Philadelphia takes us to one such block in Little Egg Harbor, right outside Atlantic City.

Reporter

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Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

Well, switching gears now, we are just about two weeks away from the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, but when it comes to rebuilding and recovery efforts along the New Jersey shore, it has been a mixed bag. Some homes and businesses look like the storm never hit. Others look like it came ashore just yesterday.

So residents who are able to return home often find themselves moving into strangely empty neighborhoods. From the HERE AND NOW contributors network, WHYY's Tracey Samuelson takes us to one such block in Little Egg Harbor, outside Atlantic City.

TRACEY SAMUELSON, BYLINE: Alexis Norton pushes through the unlocked gate in a chain-link fence just two houses down from hers.

ALEXIS NORTON: This house here was abandoned. Floodwaters came up. I'll take you out, you can see it.

SAMUELSON: To say the yard is overgrown, well, that is an understatement. Norton holds back some bushes for two friends and me. Oops, hold on, I'm tangled in a cable.

NORTON: Oh, I'm sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMUELSON: Clearly she's done this before.

NORTON: The mortgage company took back their house because they walked away.

SAMUELSON: It was pretty soon after the storm, Norton says.

CATHY MCDERMOTT: Currently they were late on their mortgage payments as it was. That thing's got to be completely covered in mold.

SAMUELSON: That's Norton's friend Cathy McDermott(ph).

MCDERMOTT: It was so bad when we opened the door, the smell knocked us out.

SAMUELSON: Norton has a mortgage with the same company, so she called them up, asked them about the house.

NORTON: But they were supposed to take the walls and the floors out, but they didn't do it as of yet.

MCDERMOTT: Yeah, they didn't take the rugs out. Oh my God.

SAMUELSON: Norton says it's strange to work so hard to return home only to find you're living among skeletons.

But this is one house, this is one of many...

NORTON: Of the 30 homes on her dead-end street, only three are back in their houses. The house next door is just as bad: overgrown yard, open windows and a hole in the roof. Norton says they're waiting for insurance money. But most storm-damaged neighborhoods on the shore have a couple houses like this, places that look untouched since the storm.

MIKE FROMOSKY: You know, we get the emails, phone calls, we have written complaints, stuff like that. This pile is actually complaints from this year.

SAMUELSON: Mike Fromosky is the assistant administrator in Little Egg Harbor Township. So how does that stick, which is, I don't know, three inches high, how does that compare to years past?

FROMOSKY: It's more than doubled.

SAMUELSON: There were some 4,000 homes here damaged by the storm. Fromosky says the township has reached out to homeowners, asking for information about houses that don't seem to have made any progress. Residents can file a complaint if they think a house isn't living up to local code or isn't safe. The town tries to track down owners and figure out what's going on, try to get them to mow the lawn at least. But it's hard.

FROMOSKY: And that's just it. When the people complain that, oh, we've got all these abandoned houses, you have to identify them, I'm like, well, how do you identify them. My house look abandoned probably for nine months.

SAMUELSON: Rebuilding is slow, especially if people are still battling with insurance or waiting to see what kind of money they might get through government grants. Plus many homes here are second homes, which don't qualify for many of the Sandy aid programs. And then there's foreclosures.

Even before Sandy, foreclosures were on the rise in New Jersey, and they're up 67 percent so far this year over the same period last year. The house next to McDermott and Lisa Stevens(ph) has been bank owned for about four years. It was in terrible condition before the storm, but Sandy made it worse.

LISA STEVENS: Well yes because there was a lot of debris that came into that backyard. There was...

SAMUELSON: Recently some of the neighbors piled it up and put it out on the curb, sick of looking at it and hoping the town might haul it away.

STEVENS: Definitely the asbestos siding has spread more. You know, we worry about - we don't know if some of it fell back into the water or leeched, you know, is what's leeching...

SAMUELSON: Whether the homeowner is long gone or just waiting for more financial help to rebuild, these damaged houses are still there, empty, maybe rotting. Everyone wants repairs to move more quickly, but try and tell someone they need to move a little faster, that's tough, too, says Little Egg Harbor's Fromosky.

FROMOSKY: We just got an email just - it was probably last week about do you like harassing us, and, you know. And as a victim of the storm myself, you know, I know how long the process is.

SAMUELSON: Fromosky gets that people are frustrated. He says they also need to be patient: patient with the town, with the state and most of all patient with their neighbors. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Tracey Samuelson in Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey.

HOBSON: Well, if you lived through Sandy, we'd love to hear from you, your memories of Sandy, how is the recovery going for you. You can go to hereandnow.org and let us know. We'll be checking in on the recovery across the Northeast over the next couple of weeks. Back in a minute, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.