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Taking Stock Of What Was Lost And Found Post-Sandy

A house damaged by Superstorm Sandy, in Tuckerton, N.J.
Tracey Samuelson
A house damaged by Superstorm Sandy, in Tuckerton, N.J.

After Superstorm Sandy struck the East Coast, people returned to waterlogged homes and began to assess the damage. They created lost-and-found lists on the walls of town halls or Facebook pages to try to recover some of what the storm had swept away.

Lost: Two cedar Adirondack chairs, a necklace passed down through generations. Found: a floating dock, a high school diploma.

Now, one year after the storm, residents on the Jersey shore are still reflecting on what they lost during the storm — and what they might have gained.

For Susan Holland, when the water came bubbling into her Toms River, N.J., home, she lost all her clothes, two cars and all the furniture on the bottom floor of her house.

"I threw things on my bed, not realizing that your bed becomes a sponge. But [I had] just no idea that the water was going to come up that high," Holland says.

She did save the photo albums, her wedding dress. The Hollands stayed with family for a few months and were among the first in their neighborhood to move home in January.

Then in February, Susan's husband died in his sleep.

"I didn't have any neighbors to send my kids to. He'd gone to sleep, and when I got into bed and realized something was wrong, there was nowhere for them to go," Holland says.

After he died, she started to miss things she never expected to when they were clearing out the house after the storm. "And I feel like there's a lot of things like T-shirts of his I don't have because that was all thrown away," she says.

Sandy and its aftermath took a lot from Susan's family, but it gave back a bit, too. Friends pitched in to do work on the house, and they raised more than $40,000 for her from donations and grants.

"My friends used Facebook. They started the Holland Family Fund. And there was a donation from as far away as the U.K.," she says.

She has no idea how they even heard about her. "And it made it easier to ask for help. We weren't the kind of people to ask for help," she says.

Many shore residents have a similar tally of possessions and emotions lost and found because the storm. In New Jersey alone, Sandy's price tag is estimated at $40 billion. But many of the things it swept away or deposited can't be quantified.

Before the storm, Elizabeth Burke Beaty says her life on Long Beach Island was pretty isolated.

"I had my husband. I had my son. I had my dog — and that was pretty much it," Beaty says.

So even though Sandy destroyed her family's mobile home, she says she's better off after the storm. She helped organize crews of volunteers to gut houses.

"And now I have a whole community of friends that I didn't have pre-Sandy," she says. "It's given me such hope and faith in people and myself, and it fuels me to keep going."

The storm brought people together, cliche as that may sound. It also brought them face to face with their government in ways they didn't always like.

"You know what I gained? I gained a hate for FEMA. I gained a hate for insurance. I will never, ever have flood insurance again," says Lambros Vlachakis. He was insured through the National Flood Insurance Program, which is run by FEMA. He's on his eighth adjuster and is still trying to resolve his claim. In the meantime, he drives each day to the empty gravel lot in Seaside Heights where he used to live and where he's trying to rebuild.

"If they tell me I need flood insurance just to live there, I would knock that house down one block at a time and leave it there just so I don't have to have flood insurance," Vlachakis says.

A year later, these Sandy scorecards, these lists of what the storm brought and took away, are still often recited in the checkout line at the grocery store or town council meetings. No one's list is the same, but the losses tend to outnumber the gains.

Copyright 2021 WHYY. To see more, visit WHYY.

Tracey Samuelson