I am a grandmother paddling alone over 2,500 miles from Maine to Guatemala. Along the way I will be:
- telling the story of the children who live in the Guatemala City garbage dump community
- honoring their entrepreneurial mothers
- talking about the success of the Safe Passage model school and
- raising funds for additional grades for the school.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Superstorm Sandy and Seaside: An emotional experience

An emotional goodbye from my host Pam Maguire. (photo by Asbury Park Press)
It has been so moving to talk with the people along New Jersey's barrier islands about Superstorm Sandy.
Emotions still run high as the stories of the storm are repeated one more time.  In Mantoloking there is a whole stretch of beach front, where along the road there are stone walls and elegant entryways, one after the other.  But the large houses are all gone - washed into the ocean.
There were no empty lots in this town before Sandy.
In Sea Side there are neighborhoods of small bungalows, peppered with empty lots where houses once stood.  This was a community where there were no empty lots before Sandy.  I f you wanted to build a house, you had to buy a lot with a house, tear it down and then build.  A code enforcer told me about visiting an abandoned apartment house, now almost two years after Sandy, and seeing dinner still laid out on the table.  I saw places where the land washed right out from under a business, and the parking lot became part of the bay, with no land left.  There are still many houses that appear to have been abandoned - no repairs and overgrown by plants.

Small house being raised.
Some home owners who had no mortgage, just rebuilt their homes as they had always been.  Those with mortgages were forced to rebuild to meet the FEMA code requiring them to raise their homes.  Houses look funny when they are high up on stilts, especially when the neighboring houses are not raised.

The boardwalks were one of the first things to get repaired, while many homeowners are still not back in their houses.  But then a fire caused by a small business who didn't repair the wiring after the storm, a large section of the boardwalk and all of the businesses were destroyed.

I heard from people who evacuated, and a few others who stayed through the storm.  Those who stayed lost all of their vehicles.  Those who evacuated at least had the ones they drove away.

When people evacuated, they took just an overnight bag, expecting to be back in a few days.  But it was months before people could get back into Lavelette.  They were refugees and weren't even allowed to drive in and see how their homes had fared.  Eventually the authorities arranged buses to bring people in for a visit.  But each person had to hand in their driver's licensee before being allowed to board the bus.  The authorities were worried some people would want to stay in their homes.

Talking with people who are still not back in their homes almost two years later, the feelings are still so raw.  They told me of watching while their damaged house was torn down, with tears welling up.  There is a waiting list of years to get a local builder, or even a prefab module.

Someone may think that it's the wealthy who have homes on these barrier islands.  But visiting during October means I'm talking with the handful of year round residents, and they are not the ones with money.

The Seaside Rotary Club was such a generous host while I was here - sharing their stories, driving me around to see the effects of Sandy, arranging for press coverage, making a generous donation to Safe Passage,  taking care of my kayak and hosting me for two nights.   I joined them for their first meeting in their new "home".  It's taken them two years to find a place to meet since the restaurants where they met in the past have not yet reopened after Sandy.

Seaside Rotary Club, in their new "home".
Kayak storage:  Hobby Lobby Marine  (Bob Tweer)                                 Host: Pam Maguire

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