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There was nothing you could do, other than all you could

Harry DiCorcia

Harry “Chip” DiCorcia, has been a resident of Point Pleasant Beach for all his life. During Hurricane Sandy he worked with the first aid squad to help those in danger. In the aftermath he helped to transform the Durand Masonic Lodge into a support center for helping those affected by the storm. In his interview, Chip shines light on both positive and negative experiences post- Sandy. He gives his regards to everyone who volunteered their time and energy to help those in need.

 

I haven’t moved off the same block my whole life.

How long have you lived in Point Pleasant Beach? Were you living in the house you were raised in at the time of Hurricane Sandy?

53 years. All of them. I actually bought the house two doors from where my parents had a house. I grew up on Atlantic Avenue, which is between, the highways here, and I bought, put on additions to accommodate my growing family, but I haven’t moved off the block. The beauty part was that I worked, for 28 years, in the police department and I got to walk to work every day. So, I had it pretty good growing up in town, having been to the high school, involved in the community, joined the first aid squad when I was 18. When we were in high school, we were allowed to join the fire company when we were 16, as “Junior members”.

What that meant was, when the whistle blew during the daytime, everybody got to leave school to go ride on the fire truck and that’s something that started years and years ago because during World War II, they didn’t have people answering the fire calls. So, they said, “We’ll take high school kids,” and they kept the Junior Program going there and it still goes to this day. So, kids that are in the high school can be a member of the fire company and they still, as long as they have passing grades, can go and answer fire calls during the day.

So you have an opportunity to get involved in the community at a young age.

How did the hurricane affect you personally?

Everyone was evacuated in town east of the tracks. I’m with the first aid squad, so as the storm was approaching, it was pretty clear that the weather people, maybe just once, maybe they [weather reporters] were going to get this one right. They were saying it was going be bad and I think pretty much everybody [believed] them. So, east of the [train] tracks, they ordered everybody to evacuate. I’m just west of the tracks. It’s the railroad tracks [between] Rte. 35 North, Rte. 35 South. I’m just one block over.

So, ok, I’ll do my part. I went to the [First Aid] squad and they said, “Ok, you know about the communication systems, can you come and assist at headquarters and be a dispatcher from 6 A.M. to noon, then we’ll get somebody else in there.” Early in the morning, I was in charge of dispatching all the first aid [rigs]. You still had the regular dispatcher, and two or three of them working at that point, because the phones were ringing off the hook. People needed things, and people needed to be evacuated.

First aid rigs would go and pick people up and take them over to the shelter in Point [Pleasant Borough High School]. So that’s really what we’re facilitating early on. At noon, I went home, slept for a few hours, and then I was due to go to the first aid building along with just about every other member of the squad.

Fortunately, the first aid building is on the 600th block. So, we’re still two blocks away from the perceived [high] watermark, the railroad tracks, and I was on a duty crew that worked from six at night until six in the morning. My daughter just finished her EMT so she was on a crew with me. There were a bunch of dedicated people. Ok, what do we do? Well, we go out, pick people up, and take them over [to the shelter].

As the water started rising, one thing that we’re certainly used to here; [Point Pleasant Beach] it’s called “Top of the Inland Waterway”. You can bring your boat in our inlet here, and go all the way to Florida, without going back out into the ocean. The waterways are all connect all the way down. The problem is that when the early high tide comes in and you have that wind blowing inland, what goes into the bay and through the canal, stays there, really doesn’t come back out at low tide because the wind is forcing all that water to stay there. So the second high tide, which came with the full moon, the highest possible tide, and the highest winds at that time, we knew we were in trouble.

Again, acting as driver for the first aid, picking people up, and, I want to say it was roughly around 8 o’clock at night or so, that one of the firemen thought he could stay in his house with his wife and dogs [thinking they were fine] and he’ll be the first one to say, ‘saw the water coming down the street and, boom, next thing I know, it was this [knee] high in my house. It just came right up.’ And again, we have three lakes in town so those are overfilling and the water can’t get back out. There’s just no proper way to drain. Another thing that, I guess, wasn’t really realized was when the water started pushing the sand off the beach. Now all that sand is filling all the sewer drains, so where is the water going to go? I mean, they’re filled with sand!

I knew it got to the point where nobody should be out here anymore. The streetlights were hanging by; it looked like the chains were broken; they were hanging by wires and they’re just blowing in the wind and I’m thinking, “I don’t even want to drive under these things.” So, we got that [last] group to the shelter and I said, “You know what, I think that’s it. I don’t think we can go out anymore tonight. It’s just too nasty. I don’t want the rig blowing over, I mean they’re so top heavy and big.” So [command agreed] we decided that that’s it [for the night].

With the sunshine it was still a little windy. Now, we’re able to get east of the tracks and take a look at some of the things around, thirty plus boats on Broadway and Martell’s Pier is completely gone. You know that the surge of that ocean had to be pretty high. It’s interesting that some of the boardwalk was intact at the south end of town. A little bit further down from Arnold Avenue all the way south, boardwalk’s gone. Matter of fact, part of Martell’s Pier was found down south on the boardwalk. The tables that were on piers, they have tables,

those piers were down on the boardwalk We were making sure everybody’s safe and we had a few first aid calls, we had to park on 35 North, [at Elizabeth Ave.] cross the railroad tracks, which, was underwater, and go up about five houses and take a lady out in a stair-chair and carry her all the way out in the water, back to the highway to get her in the ambulance to go to the hospital.

I had a tree branch down in my front yard that was leaning on my electric wire. ‘Boy, I better cut that down before they do restore power and then that becomes an issue.’ I lost the shingles off my roof in a diagonal fashion, sporadically here and there, and I’m going to need a new roof, but the roof wasn’t leaking, just peeled off the shingles diagonally. There was a little leak that came over little things. I can deal with that and fortunately, for me, that’s all contributed to wind damage, not water. The water didn’t come over the tracks. If it was water damage, I wouldn’t be covered by insurance because I don’t have flood insurance; I’m not in a flood zone. I’ve been through this before and it doesn’t matter if it’s three inches or three feet of water in your house, when the sheetrock is wet, [for a few hours, or days] you’re going get mold. That’s gotta get cut out, and you have to treat it, and move on, and hopefully it’s not in the electric or anything like that. A small group of us decided to meet here [at the Lodge] that was Monday/Tuesday that it happened, we all meet here and Jersey Mike’s next door was opened. They didn’t have power. Atlantic Avenue didn’t have power.

[Usually], If there’s ever an outage, [in]15 minutes, Atlantic Avenue is back on. New Jersey Avenue was on, my house still didn’t have power neither did Jersey Mike’s, but the Lodge had power. We asked the [Jersey Mike’s employees], “What are you guys doing?” “Oh, we’re opening. We’re tired of peanut butter and jelly.” So I said, “Oh great for you guys.” So, I look and they had generators running out there, keeping their refrigerators going. The Lodge has power, that’s the only thing we got around here let me give you a hand. We start plugging extension cords in and running everything through the window to help them out. Once people saw Jersey Mikes was open, more and more people are coming to help. I think, when I went home that night, certainly it’s dark and everything, we’re still under martial law. There was a police officer at every intersection. Nobody’s allowed east of the tracks.

Well, what I did is based on the fact that, yeah, I did the police thing. I’m up on emergency management, I was at Ground Zero, 9/11, for three days. I see the way you’re supposed to run an operation, [and I have nothing to do, and need to do something]. I said, “Ok, if you need help or want to help, come to the [Durand] Masonic Lodge.” We opened up the lodge to everybody and I was able to go get a computer program that we use up at Martell’s. Anybody that comes up there, “Well let’s see your license” We scan it; now we have a record of you. Well, that’s what I did. If I was sending you out to help somebody’s house, I want the person who I’m sending to know who I sent to your house. I’m just documenting who’s coming in here, registering to help, and going out to help.

I think, very quickly, in the next three weeks, we had over 800 volunteers registered through the Masonic Lodge to help people. My wife Maura was running the lodge when I went out to help. It just grew. We had supplies being dropped off here. We had a table, the whole length of here, was just filled with supplies. People come in, register, you want to help? Ok, go sit at that table, I’ll get a team together. You guys are going here. I had the town…I had a map of the town and I mapped out every location that we went to and I could tell [you] who went to what house. That’s being accountable.

That’s one of the important things if you going to get involved in something like this. The bottom line is police will do great things, emergency management will do great things, but it’s the community that helps the community. Always has, always will be and this was just an avenue for them to go out and help. Every day [my wife and I] were here, organizing teams, and sending them out. “What do you need done?” “Gotta rip this wall out, gotta do this, get everything to the curb.” I was a firm believer. If we don’t get all of this ruined material out of your house, and put it out by the curb, soon, when the town has to come pick it up, there’s no doubt about it, they have to. There’s [will] come a point in time, when they’re gonna say, “Oh, stop. We can’t pick up anymore.”

Virtually, the parking lots down by the beach were turned into dumping grounds for everything that everybody got rid of. Sure enough, by early December, the town said, “We’re done. We can’t do this anymore. If you have anything you gotta throw out, you gotta get a dumpster. It’s on you now.” The town did their part and they did, and by doing that, the town quickly moved the sand out of the road, which came down three blocks. You couldn’t really drive down there. They were able to pick up the stuff and at least, take it to a midway point, where they would later take it out to a dump and it’s just something that some people use or we spearheaded that.

It had to be done. Could you imagine, if you wait for the government to do it, you’ll be waiting a long time. “Oh what should we do?” We just took it. I understood what needed to be done and we did it. We [had] a lot of help, everybody that signed up, I think, by the end, we were up to 1500 names that registered to go and help. I’d walk home from here, and I said, “We’ll be opened from 9 o’clock in the morning to dark. Need help, want help, come here.” I wasn’t sending anybody out after dark either because there’s still no power in most of the town. That’s what was being organized out of the [Durand] lodge here. I guess, in hindsight, last year, [Glenn R. Troutman] the Grandmaster of Masons in the State of New Jersey gave Durand Lodge a humanitarian award, but it all started with a few people that just said, “You need help? We’ll do it from here.”

I can remember walking home, just getting dark, again, a block away, and a lady pulled up. It was one of the first nights, and just, car slowing down and said, “Excuse me, sir, would you like a warm meal?” I was kind of taken back by it. “No thanks, I [live] right here.” “If you want anything warm to eat, we have it.” Well they were driving up and down the street, feeding people that were out there working. That all came from St. Mary’s Church, [Bay and Atlantic Avenues] right up around the corner here. All they did was cook. Once you put the resources together, I want workers here, I want people who need help here, and then they’re out of here [off to a job site]. Whatever equipment we need, rakes, shovels, that stuff we had here. Cleaning supplies, we had here. Hammers, masks, we had that here.

We don’t want people eating in here. Wanna eat? Go to St. Mary’s. They’re cooking. You wanna do something else? There’s another place that does that. Don’t bring clothes here. I know people need clothes. They lost a lot of things. The High school’s taking [and giving out] clothes. It was just the way we organized it and this way, we weren’t tripping over each other here. The purpose of this place was to send help out to people that needed to clean out their houses. So, it worked and again, being accountable and knowing who we sending where. This went on for some time.

We did this on weekends where groups from Trenton…The College of New Jersey, would come right through May. We had groups come in on Saturdays. “Ok, got a job? Yes.”

Would you say that the cleaning and restoration efforts were organized?

Well, it had to be. Otherwise, there’s no credibility in it. If we weren’t organized, what the hell are they doing? I got it. Other people were doing things, but I would say that we were organized and accountable. Again, we know who we were sending to whose house and believe me, [if someone said]‘Oh, my lamps were stolen off my porch’. ‘Really?’ There’s proof. ‘You know anything about the lamps?’ I can follow up.

Later, we partnered with Shore2Recover. They were raising money. They were willing to do it.

The man that’s sitting over there, that’s Chris Pirl. He’s our last really big project with Shore2Recover. His daughter was hit by a car coming home from bonfire at the high school 5 years ago. She’s in a wheelchair, has a traumatic brain injury, but a sweet kid and very appreciative of everything that everybody’s doing for her. Well, because of the damage to his house, they put them up in a motel, the wheelchair couldn’t get around in the motel. To hell with this, he went back home. He eradicated as much mold as he could, kind of sealed it, said, “I gotta move back home,” and he did, but the house had to come down. There’s no doubt about it. There’s stuff in there, it’s gotta come down.

Was there anything really difficult in trying to rebuild or trying to help out overall?

I guess that there are roadblocks, permits, and things like that. It’s the old thing, if you’re doing the work yourself, you can do work in your own house. That was my theory. You own the house, you do the work yourself. I got volunteers to help do that. [helping the homeowners] That’s kind of where we were with a lot of it. There’s still people waiting for permits too. A lot of towns waived the permits. I hear that there’s a lot of people that still haven’t had insurance money paid out and things like that.

One of my bigger fears was what happened with Katrina. I teach about that in emergency management and things like that, what’s expected. You can’t wait around for the government to say, “Ok, we’re gonna send ya…” You gotta do it, organize it, and then, people will come to you. I can’t tell you how many people needed help, but there’s so many more that wanted to help. The line that formed out here “I wanna help. What can I do?” We got a lot of people who need help and whether that meant just shoveling the sand off their walk or whatever, that’s what we did. We provided a way for them to move to the next step. There’s a lot of steps left, but at least, we forced that and got it going.

At least here in the Beach, part of Point [Borough], ya know Bay Head. Mantoloking, they really wouldn’t let us into that. That was the shutdown. I don’t blame them. I’ve been down there. There were still houses that were hanging. I thought “Oh, that’s gonna come down any minute.” Then of course, a few days after, we had a Nor’easter, where the water came back across Ocean Avenue again. It was just like come on, give us a break.

What would you consider the biggest challenges that people are still facing from Sandy?

There’s still a lot of people who aren’t in their homes. That’s clear. I certainly notice that in the summer. In the summer, I’m the Director of Security at a bar up on the beach. I walk home at two o’clock in the morning. Most house[s] have a nightlight on or a porch light on. Man, there were a lot of dark houses as I walked home from the boardwalk though, back to my house. I noticed that as businesses got back up and running, and that there was certainly a lot of summer traffic and activity, but they were day trippers. They weren’t people stay over or renting houses for the weeks like they have been in the past. There’s a lot of people that depend on summer rental income and things like that. That was pretty non-existent this year. Hopefully, next year, we’ll be up and running.

What do you think can be learned from Sandy?

I think what’s learned is, everybody has a job to do. Certainly the police, emergency management, fire, first aid, all important things, but there has to be some type of volunteer coordinator, like we started here. Sure enough, there’s a FEMA course and their EMI (Education Management Institute). You can go in there and take a course and I’ve taken many throughout my career in the police department. Well, one of them they offer now is volunteer coordinator. I went in there, took the class, and got the certificate, just to do it, just to say, “I understand what needed to be done.”

You don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. You don’t want to do work that other people are doing. They’re collecting clothes, let them collect clothes. I don’t need to do that here. I just need to know how to connect the dots from people saying, “Hey, I need jackets for the kids.” Boom, local high school, they got ‘em. That’s what we did. We’re just facilitating. The thing is to work together. Everything’s teamwork and knowing what your good at, and doing it, and letting people who are good at the other things do those things. Really, it’s building a team in times of disasters. It was a disaster, not a tragedy, a disaster. Tragedies are [unfortunate] bad, there was just nothing you can do other then all you could, if that makes any sense. And stepping up to the plate and saying, “How can we help? How can we make this go as smoothly as possible?” Because people are devastated. Certainly, the builders smile and go, “Oh, I have work for the next five years.” Palumbo’s Appliance [across the street], people need new appliances. This is a shock to the economy because people need things because they were destroyed. Even the scrap, those appliances that when out to the curb, people would, in some areas, would put a piece of tape around refrigerators, stoves, and everything and spray paint it, ‘Do Not Take. Hold for Insurance.’ Take a picture. There were guys coming through town with their trailers, saying, “Scrap Metal. We’re taking Scrap Metal,” and the town got to the point where they were saying, “Listen, let this guy scrap it because we have to pay to take it out of here,” so it’s a matter of working together. [Some people who] put their belongings out at the curb, because they’re no good anymore and they see somebody coming to take it. “Hey wait a second, that’s mine. What are you doing with that?” There was a little emotion in that, I noticed, but hey, it’s got to go eventually, might as well let them take it. You got photographs. There’s no doubt you can go in everybody’s house and say, “Here’s the water level. Anything that was hit, it’s no good,” but it takes a while.

It takes a while to get to that point where you’re willing to let go, and not feel violated. For a lot of these people, I know. My goodness, we [Maura] had people here for the psychological aspect that [they] went through. A lot of people, we just sat here in the afternoon, just talking. If that made them feel better, at the end of the day, great. There were a lot of hugs. Yeah, I lost everything. I get it. We’ll sit here and talk, if you need it, and if we can get you to the right people, we’ll get you to the right people. You’re not the only one going through this and there’s people here to help.


Interviewed by Jason Kim and Steven Scott
Edited by Caileen Fitzpatrick
Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey
Recorded November 9, 2013