Union Beach Residents Continue to Struggle to Rebuild After Sandy

NJ Spotlight News | December 11, 2013 | Politics, Weather

By Lauren Wanko

This 32-foot trailer is home to Union Beach resident Tracey Bloomer. Heartbroken, she cries as she looks out onto the empty lot, which is where her home used to be. It was demo’ed in October, a victim of Sandy’s wrath.

“It’s hard to see even my 10-year-old son look out the window and say, ‘Mom when are we gonna have a house there?’ and I don’t know. I don’t know,” Bloomer said.

The single mother of two says before the storm, her mortgage company determined she wasn’t in a flood zone and canceled her flood insurance policy.

“So I didn’t have flood insurance which I thought I did. I didn’t find out until after the hurricane when I called to find out what my policy number was. It was canceled,” Bloomer said.

Four hundred families are still not back in their homes in Union Beach, more than a year after Sandy. Big, empty lots are all that’s left of the homes devastated by the storm. Two hundred forty houses have been demolished here. Hundreds will be homeless this Christmas.

“It’s a very difficult time of year. Everyone wants to be back in their house,” said Borough Administrator Jennifer Maier.

The borough administrator says residents are still waiting on grant money from the Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation Program — money desperately needed for reconstruction.

“There’s a 15-step process. Most people are on step five,” Maier said.

A team of case managers set up headquarters in Union Beach borough hall to help homeowners.

This case manager is working with a Union Beach resident who’s in the early stages of foreclosure.

“I still don’t believe this happened to me,” Union Beach resident Richard Koval said.

He lost his wife before the storm. Then Sandy came and destroyed his home. It’s still boarded up.

“I just want to get back here where I belong. My wife and I worked a long time to put money away to get a house,” Koval said.

Businesses are struggling as much as homeowners. Jakeabob’s Bay Restaurant was wiped out by the storm. The owner temporarily moved to another location. She emptied out her savings and is still fighting with the insurance company.

When asked what has been the hardest part, Gigi Llaguno-Dorr. replied, “Trying to keep focused, trying to keep positive and pressing forward and trying to figure out how to do it.”

As for Bloomer, she’s pursuing legal action, determined to not only stay in Union Beach, but rebuild on her now empty lot.