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Many Displaced by Sandy Still Far from Home [SERIES]

In part two of our series Sandy: Then and Now, we look at the challenges faced by displaced individuals in finding a place to stay and returning home.

FEMA trailers lined up at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson
FEMA trailers lined up at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson (Ilya Hemlin, Townsquare Media)

Before Sandy hit, Governor Christie issued mandatory evacuations for all barrier island homes from Sandy Hook to Cape May. After the storm hit, it’s estimated 346,000 homes in New Jersey were damaged and 22,000 were declared completely uninhabitable.

Initially, the Red Cross and FEMA provided shelter to hundreds of thousands of residents. However, with so many communities decimated, many residents were unable to return home and had to be relocated across the state.

“We had folks from Rockaway move to Bergen County and realizing this was a completely new area, helped them get connected to social services in the area,” said Karen Vossen, Director of Superstorm Sandy Communication for the Red Cross.

FEMA has given $358.5 million in housing assistance, including hotel vouchers, modular homes, and even creating residences at Fort Monmouth.

“We’re still housing people in Fort Monmouth, we still have people in manufactured housing units, and we’re working with them on a case-by-case basis, one-on-one, to assist them to find more appropriate long term housing,” Darrell Habisch, FEMA External Affairs Director said.

However, he notes many times the manufactured housing or homes in Fort Monmouth could still be a “half-a-state away” from where individuals originally lived.

“So it’s really important that we assist them in transitioning into a more appropriate program where they can be closer to their family, closer to their school, and work,” he explained.

Vossen adds many residents living in flood zones faced higher premiums if they didn’t raise their homes, causing them to delay returning home or opting to move elsewhere.

“A lot of people are kind of determining now, ‘Ok if I get this house, what do I do? Do I move, do I not come back?'”

She says it will have greater ramifications for communities in Monmouth and Ocean Counties.

“They lost like a third of their residents, so if those folks aren’t coming back for one reason or another, how is it going to effect the tax base and the town?”

Ocean County Planning Director Dave McKeon says it could take years until the long-term effects of Sandy are over. In previous interviews, he noted while the exact numbers of displaced is impossible to calculate, estimates had upwards of 25,000 individuals in Ocean County still unable to return home.

“A lot of people who weren’t directly impacted by Sandy who look around now and see anything in their community are surprised. But for the people who were there since day one, I don’t think it’s very surprising,” McKeon said.

He adds they foresaw the damage being long lasting.

“The thousands and thousands of units that were affected and for the thousands of families that were affected, there’s no quick solution. Some people were able to get into their home a little quicker, but I think from the beginning people knew it would be years for everyone to be taken care of.”

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