UNION BEACH, N.J. (AP) — Bart Sutton fought with his insurance company for a year over what it would cost to rebuild his flood-damaged home, then gave up in frustration and tore it down. A week later, the money came through.
Simone and Ken Dannecker fixed their flooded home themselves, deciding they couldn't wait for insurance and government aid as green mold threatened to overrun it. Now, with the work nearly done, they are all but bankrupt — and still can't afford to elevate the house they fought so hard to stay in.
Gigi Liaguno-Dorr needs $2 million to rebuild the bayfront restaurant that was one of the town's major employers; she has less than a quarter of that and says she has never felt so helpless.
For these three families in Union Beach, a blue-collar enclave clinging precariously to the Raritan Bay, full recovery from Superstorm Sandy is still elusive nearly a year after the storm pummeled the state Oct. 29. That's also true for thousands of others at the Jersey shore; in Ocean County alone, the county planning board estimated 26,000 people were unable to return to their homes as of last month.
Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie, could not estimate how many storm-damaged homes remain unoccupied. Many families are living elsewhere while their homes are being rebuilt, and "a large number" of bungalows and small homes that were destroyed or severely damaged were second homes for people living in their primary residences, he said. The state taxation division said more than 40,000 properties suffered a total of $4.3 billion in lost value from storm damage.
Joanne Gwin's home in the Silverton section of Toms River was wrecked by the storm. Her insurance company paid $101,100 on a $250,000 policy, and she is appealing that decision, still living in a rental a year later.
"As of today, we are no closer to moving home than we were on Nov. 2, 2012," she said. "We are paying taxes and insurance on a home we can no longer live in. We are now at a standstill, waiting for the next step. What IS the next step? Does anybody know? We are looking at another Christmas with a tabletop tree in an apartment instead of the 9-foot Christmas tree that has always been our tradition. We want to go home."
To be sure, remarkable progress has been made in recovering from one of the worst storms ever to hit New Jersey and the second-costliest in the nation's history at $65 billion, trailing only Hurricane Katrina's $125 billion cost. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent rebuilding boardwalks and oceanfront attractions crucial to the tourist trade, and thousands of homes have been repaired, either with the help of government aid or through a mix of private insurance and savings.
As of Sept. 30, $5.6 billion in aid had been paid out to New Jersey storm victims, including $3.5 billion from the National Flood Insurance Program and $415 million in FEMA grants to individuals or households.