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One Year After Sandy: A Disheveled NJ, Disheartened Residents

By Jillian MacMath, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
October 30, 2013; 5:40 PM ET

(AccuWeather Photo/David Defilippis)

One year after Sandy, which struck the eastern United States with unprecedented force, it remains difficult for many to agree on a timetable at which normalcy will return. The arduous process of rebuilding remains a reality for many.

Stretching from Seaside Park to Mantoloking, N.J., Route 35 is disheveled, a sign that the summer tourist hot spot is still not what it once was. The street is lined with temporary gas lines and roadwork is underway.

Without a doubt, there has been noticeable progress since last October when several entire houses washed onto the heavily traveled coastal route, toppling over and remaining a painful reminder of the storm for months to come.

But the upheaval Sandy caused is still visible in the state's seaside towns. A brief walk down most residential streets reveal evidence of the storm in some shape or form -- some homes abandoned and others towering ten feet in the air atop wooden stilts.

Where the storm was less destructive, finding the damage now requires a closer look, but in places, watermarks remain from the year-prior storm surge.

Behind the exterior of many homes, there are hollowed walls and tired, disheartened residents.

In reflection, one year later, the lessons learned from the storm vary depending on whom you ask. Some say the wrath Sandy brought to the charming small-town communities will never occur again. Others say they are hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.

Meanwhile, officials, which have had both the role of best friend and enemy in this disaster, continue to stress that what happens once can happen twice.

(AccuWeather Photo/David Defilippis)

However, 12 months after the monster unaffectionately nicknamed a "Superstorm," it is clear that lessons have been learned by all: homeowners, businesses, the United States government, and residents of the other 27 impacted states which watched in horror as the massive post-tropical cyclone made landfall last October.

"It's all about lessons learned from previous disasters. You can't compare disasters, and you can't say that this is comparable to the flooding in Colorado, or the flooding along the Ohio River or Katrina," Darrell Habisch, spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), told AccuWeather.com at the agency's New Jersey office in late September.

"Every disaster is unique. What we can do is analyze all of the responses, analyze our preparations for an event, especially when we know its coming. How do we better prepare a response and that ability to protect lives and property?" Habisch asked.

FEMA came under fire by many when Sandy struck and the bureaucratic nature of the government agency butted heads with the urgent need for assistance from those affected.

From extensive paperwork to in-flux flood planes, there was a palpable disconnect between what FEMA did and what residents felt the first step in recovery should have been.

Moving forward, the agency's primary focus is on how to strengthen coastal areas so they stand a chance should another intensely powerful storm take aim at the United States.

"Is this the only time this is going to happen in New Jersey? No. It's going to happen again. Now we have to keep any eye towards how we mitigate it..." Habisch said.

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"It's going to happen again in some way, shape or form, so we now need to elevate, we need to reinforce, we need to strengthen all of these facilities so that they withstand future storms."

It's been a similar lesson for the Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, a team of more than 50, assembled by President Obama to design a plan for rebuilding sustainably on the East Coast now, and across the nation in the future.

"The biggest finding was that we should rebuild stronger to withstand future storms. We saw up and down the coastlines in New York and New Jersey that towns that had dunes were protected whereas towns that didn't have dunes or seawalls or other protective measures got destroyed," Michael Passante, N.J. State Director for the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, said.

"And the same thing with individual homes. You can see homes, literally one right next to each other, where one was elevated and one wasn't and where one survived and one didn't."

The team's final report took into account evidence of a changing climate and global sea level rise.

(AccuWeather Photo/David Defilippis)

"No single solution or set of actions can anticipate every threat, but decision makers at all levels must recognize that climate change and the resulting increase in risks for extreme weather have eliminated the option of simply building back to outdated standards and expecting better outcomes after the next extreme event," the document stated.

While the government focuses on mitigation, residents have learned much about paperwork, federal grants and the process of appeals.

For many people, hours spent filling out paperwork have resulted in little or no grant money, and National Flood Insurance Program payouts have not been sufficient to cover the cost of the damage.

Michelle Mallozzi of Seaside Park has been living in temporary housing paid for by FEMA since the storm. She evacuated the day Sandy made landfall and returned to find that her one-story home needed to be gutted.

"I do have my flood insurance money that I could've started working on the house [with], but the house has to be lifted, you know the codes and everything that goes along with it," she said.

"And to lift it is going to be close to 100,000 dollars and I don't have that kind of money."

Mallozzi applied for federal grant money, but was told to discontinue work on the house after submitting the application.

Now, from the entranceway to Mallozzi's house, every room is visible. Dry wall and insulation have been removed from the lower portion of the walls to eradicate the mold. The house, as it stands, is a jungle of two-by-fours.

"I don't have walls; I don't have anything," Mallozzi said.

For her, the storm yielded the message that it's time for infrastructure to change.

"...I want my house lifted. I never thought about it before. I always knew about global warming; I never realized that the tides here would be coming up," she said.

"I am very worried about all of this."


Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Jillian MacMath at macmathj@accuweather.com, follow her on Twitter @Accu_Jillian or Google+. Follow us @breakingweather, or on Facebook and Google+.

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