Sunday, January 27, 2013

90 days post Sandy

It is almost day 90 post Sandy and the world around Sandy Survivors is back to normal. NJ has returned to normal, residents have electricity, heat, hot water, and the roads are clear unless you are in the towns that were damaged by Sandy. For the towns that have suffered damage the people are not so lucky. We the people are still waiting. You ask waiting for what? We are waiting for everything.

On day one after the storm, we all surveyed our properties, our town to make sure that our family was safe. We were blessed that no one died in Union Beach. Union Beach was not blessed that our homes died a horrible death. Yet, we as a community found strength in our sadness and started the process of cleaning, getting resources and started making the calls we needed to do. Many of the home survivors (people that their homes were not damaged), opened their homes so families could get warm, have a hot shower, and  send out emails so our families and employers knew how we were doing. Others created mobile units and drove around with wifi connections so families could fill out FEMA forms, email friends and employees and transfer funds. Others families gathered their food and made meals for neighbors and people they never met. All over NJ there were wonderful individuals supporting each others. I can only speak about what the Union Beach community had done. It wasn’t about “I” but about “we”.

We are almost at day 90 of when Sandy hit, and Union Beach residents are still banded together helping each other. You know the old saying there is no I in TEAM and that is what Union Beach is a TEAM. Each of us have our roles. Some are motivators, others are gathers (donations), others are the delivery crew, and yet others play subtle roles. Whatever your role you do it well.

We are almost at day 90 and society doesn’t understand the HELL this has become. You would think that it would be an easy process. Something along the lines of you call your insurance company, you file a claim, the adjuster comes out, completes the claim and you get your report. However, that is not the case. My family files our claim with insurance and FEMA on October, 30, 2012. FEMA was quick at the trigger they were to the house within a few days to survey the damage.

The FEMA claim adjuster was an nice but nieve. He entered my home, he told us he didn’t need our help or the help of our contractor. I disregarded his no need to help and followed him into the home. I wasn’t leaving anything up to the “expert” that tried to turn on the light switch to get more light. As he came out of the house, he was making sure he had everything correct. You have a baseboard heat, no we have forced air, so you have an electric stove no we have a gas stove, you have well water no we have city water and sewer, your water mark is 4 feet (where were you measuring?) our waterline is 65 inches you measured the water mark where the house sunk down and so it goes on correcting what he didn’t need help in the first place.

Insurance we filed our claim at 5PM on October 30. We waited to hear back on scheduling an appointment. We waited 2 weeks. What did we learn after two weeks? That our claim was never filed. Why you may ask? The answer would be because they said we didn’t give them an policy number. Funny how our claim number was our policy number. So they corrected the “oversight” and sent our claim in. We wait again. Our contractor calls the insurance with the claim number and we hear “I am not your claim representative, I do autos.” So now we have to call another number to talk to another person to get the claim filed again. So we file the claim AGAIN and we wait another 2 weeks. You may wonder why we wait 2 weeks all the time. It is because we are told that it takes 2 weeks for the claim to be processed and assigned. So we are at 2 weeks again, and what do we hear when that our claim has been again sent to “auto”. By this time, we are tired of the delays but we know we are at the mercy of the insurance company. So this time, I contact the person that sold my parents their policy. Apparently, he didn’t like that I was pissed off and didn’t understand why I was upset with him. My brother even told me to stop being nasty with the person. Seriously, he is the face of the company and the person that wrote the policy. He is the person that needs to make this right. So anyway, our contractor finally gets things figured out and the insurance claim person comes out. He walks through the home and gives us a VERBAL number of damages. We are now waiting on his report which should have been here weeks ago but again we WAIT. And this is just flood insurance. Homeowners is another story.

Now let me tell you something that may come as a shock to you. Our foundation and pilings under the home were damaged by the water from Sandy. Shocked I know. Do you want the real shock? According to our insurance adjuster he will not cover the damage to the foundation and pilings because they are OLD. Tell me how many homes that are 70-80 years old that have replaced their foundations? Is this in a homeowners guide that I wasn’t handed? Can someone tell me how often you are to replace your pilings and foundation?

So the shocking piece is this. My family home had a compromised foundation, pilings which makes the left wall push in which affects the roof.  The flood insurance adjuster says he doesn’t deal with second story because it wasn’t affected by the flood. OMG seriously you said that with a straight face? Let me make an argument. The foundation and pilings hold up the house. Both of these are compromised. If those are compromised and we both can agree on this, those are what SUPPORTS the second floor. Yes, the flood waters did not reach the second floor but don’t tell me that the flood did not damage my second floor. My roof is a ramp that a skateboarder would enjoy riding. So he suggests that we speak to homeowners.

Funny thing about homeowners, once the area is determined to be a flood area. They put their hands up in the air and say “NOT IT”. They back off in such speed that your head would spin if it wasn’t already. Three days after the storm, we received a phone call from the lady that wasn’t handling our claim (car insurance lady) and she informed my parents that they would receive a check for $250 for loss of food and that is all they would cover, good luck and your next insurance premium is due in November.

So off to homeowner insurance. Did you know that Sandy had no serious winds? That the national weather service said winds were below 80 MPH and so since there was no wind the damage to the roof is minimal. So let me explain something, there were wind. Without wind we wouldn’t have had water pushed into Union Beach with 20+ high waves. Without wind those trees that toppled over would still be standing. Without the wind debris wouldn’t have picked up pieces of debris and shattered glass. So back to homeowners. They take their sweet time to come out and visit as well. When they came out they said they would cover the roof shingles and the upstairs drywall but nothing else. So apparently, we should suspend the roof shingles on an invisible roof and hang the drywall on an invisible wall.  

Here is a thought and maybe I am crazy, I feel that when there is a disaster that your homeowners, flood, FEMA and your mortgage company should have to visit all on the same day. They should have to sit together after each tour the home and discuss what is covered and what isn’t. Your mortgage company should be your advocate, it is in their best interest that you get every dime from insurance and other funders so that your home is livable and can be sold in the future.

As 90 days approach, my family and many others are in limbo. Our homes are becoming MOLD colonies. You can treat the mold until pigs fly but if you don’t fix the problem mold will continue to grow. As 90 days approach, my family waits for answers. We realize the government isn’t going to give us answers beyond how high our home has to go. We don’t expect to get a single red, white and blue dime for what we have lost. The money is never earmarked for families directly. They are for government business like infrastructure and migration of water away from the homes and beach replenishment. Those topics are for another day.

As 90 days approach there are families without a place to live. They are in hotels if they are lucky. Others are blessed that they found apartments. And others like my family we are split apart and living with relatives. Then there are others that are living in their cars, sleeping on friends couches and for the unlucky that have fallen through the cracks they are sleeping in shelters. You don’t hear about this on the news. We are no longer newsworthy in general. There are a few wonderful journalist that check in to see how things are going. And they will follow up on how life is progressing.

When I am talking to them, I stress that we need to keep the language person centered. We are not victims. We are survivors. A victim is about a crime. There is no court of law that will take charges about Mother Nature's child Sandy. A victim is someone that gives up and doesn’t fight. NJ homeowners are fighting and fighting hard. We want to be heard. We are telling our stories. A victim is someone that isn’t standing up and telling their story. Someone that says this was done to me. With this storm and other natural disasters it isn’t about what was done to an individual but what the aftermath is about.

90 days later I still have hope that things are going to improve. I still have hope that my parents and the older generation are not forgotten. My parents are 71 and 72, they have worked their entire life to have the home that they raised their children, grandchildren and their great grandchildren. The home is gone but the memories are still strong. They still have a love for their community. However, my parents are in jeopardy of not being able to rebuild because of the height requirements that the governor just accepted for the state of NJ. It leaves you wondering if NJ is going to fund those requirements. They are left wondering if they will have the money to rebuild. They aren’t looking for the anything fancy. Just a small home that they can see their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren make new memories. Then they worry will they be able to afford the taxes because they will increase. My parents are already spending a fortune on taxes. If 10% of the families make a choice not to return to the town to rebuild that means Union Beach taxes will increase further because even 100 homes not being rebuilt spells disaster for the town.

So 90 days what does it bring? It brings more questions than answers. Answers to questions you never asked and more red tape. We are left to wonder why aren’t things easier. This isn’t the first natural disaster and yet the same questions are asked every time. We are 12 years past the worst storm ever Katrina and New Orleans is still rebuilding. We are 90 days past Sandy and we can’t rebuild without the answers and money.

90 days feel no different than day 2. 90 days is warmer for some and just as cold as others. 90 days still makes you feel like someone stomped on your glasses because you can’t see straight. 90 days is just the start of the mess of survival. Survival is never easy and it is an overwhelming task.

90 days later, I know my friends are tired of my saying what I don’t have, what is going on and what is needed. I am tired too. I am tired of asking for help. I am tired needing to tell the story. I refuse to back down. I refuse to pretend like life is normal.  90 days later my life isn’t normal. I don’t know what normal is. There are no two days that are the same. I lose time from work. I lose sleep. And I lose track of who what and when things should be done because everything blends together.

Well it is almost 90 days later and the best I can offer is this. Life will be what it will be. We maybe able to rebuild, we may not be able to rebuild. We may get answers from insurance in the next 30 days but maybe we won’t. We may understand what the hell FEMA wants in the next 30 days but maybe not for another year. There are many if but and what if’s. In the end we will still be holding our heads high and making things possible for some and not for others.

90 days later, I am starting to understand why people throw their hands in the air and just don’t care.  But my hands are in the air and saying tell me what needs to be done and we will get it done.

90 days later I just want to be home. So I can start having a normal life once again. I want to my life returned to me. I don’t expect the old life. I know it must start new and fresh. But I want the chance to start.

90 days and it is just yesterday that our lives were turned upside down and around again.

90 days.....