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A little Boston whaler

Joan and Bob Current

Joan and Bob Current live in Chadwick Beach, New Jersey. The couple has owned their home in Chadwick for 47 years, and 20 years ago they chose to move there permanently because of the people, the proximity to the beach, and the quietness in the wintertime. Being just feet from the lagoon, their house sustained significant damage during Hurricane Sandy. In this narrative, they describe staying in their home during the storm, as well as the challenges they faced in the days immediately after the storm.

 

In the days before Sandy how did you prepare?

Joan:    What did we do? We didn’t really do anything.

Bob:     We just watched the television and saw it coming that’s all.

Joan:    We have had storms down here before but [were] never affected by [them]. And the last one we had before [Sandy] was Hurricane Irene. And we left. And when we came back everything was fine. The water just went up to the bottom of the step there, we had no problem. So when [they] said we have to evacuate [this time] we said, “What are they talking about, we’re staying.” And that’s what we did, not knowing what we were getting into.

Bob:    The anticipation of being not here and not knowing is worse to me than being here. And I’ll probably stay again cause I wanna know what’s going on.

Joan:    Yeah, no I wont. I’m gone.

Can you describe what the storm was like for you?

Joan:    It was a gray day, it was not a nice day. The water in the lagoon was very low. My grandson called and said, “Nana, I think you better leave.” I said, “No Todd we’re fine, no problem. The water’s low, what could happen right?”

Bob:    The wind was kicking around like crazy, blowing everything all over the place. And then it got dark and then [Joan] noticed a white line coming through that lagoon.

Current11Joan:    Yeah, it was like the water went down and all of a sudden the whole place was just white foam and the water started getting higher and higher.

Bob:    I said, “The water’s coming in so I’m gonna take my car and put it two blocks over there.” So I drove my car over, and now it was dark. As I drove it over there it was just a wet street cause it was raining and the water was coming. I drove it over there, parked in my neighbor’s driveway thinking the car would be okay, but it wasn’t. Anyway, by the time I walked back [the water] was up to my calves on Miami Drive. The wind was blowing, I could hardly get back, [it] blew my glasses off. So by the time I got back and I got up the stairs, I came in, I sat down in the chair and [then] I walked in the kitchen [because Joan] said, “The refrigerator must be leaking cause there’s water on the floor.” So I turn around and the water started coming in here.

Joan:    I said we’ll get a couple of rags, we’ll put some rags around. [Bob] said, “Rags? Are you kidding look at it, it’s coming in.” I thought oh my God, I can’t believe this. Now we better start picking stuff up.

We had all rugs at the time so everything was just sopping wet. But being here we could get stuff up. I said to Bob, “We better get all our important papers too because God forbid something happens. We have to have the deed to the house, you have to have the bill of sale for you car.” At that time we didn’t know the car was gone.

Bob:    So the water’s about 2 feet up in here and we ran around picking everything up that we could and putting it on the tables. [Then] I went and shut off the electricity. We still had the gas [at that point] but they shut that off the next day. I marked it on the wall where the water was and it finally kind of stopped. And I said, “I don’t think it’s getting any higher, so we better go up in the attic tonight.” That’s where we ended up, freezing up there.

That night of the storm there were transformers blowing up all over the place, it looked like lightening all over. You looked around [and] they were blowing up over there, they were blowing up in Toms River, they were blowing up here, [it looked like there were] lights in the sky.

The next day we came down [from the attic and] the water [was no longer in the house]. But the water was [still] up to the deck and still we couldn’t go out into the street because it covered the mailbox.

The only thing we had to eat was a couple pieces of bread. So I said that morning, “At least we still have gas so we can at least make coffee or something,” you know so with that they shut off the gas. Everything defrosted in our refrigerator, we lost all that. And we had a couple pork chops that defrosted so I went out and lit the grill and I put the pork chops on the grill. They all burned up, they were bacon by the time we ate them. We had those and we had some bread and a couple of donuts and that’s about it. I don’t think we cared that much about eating.

You live right next to the marina. Could you see what was happening to the boats during the storm?

Bob:      There was a big boat on my pilings out there, a 36-foot boat. It was hung up on our pilings with another boat attached to him because the anchor of that boat Current8went through a windshield. Boats were floating by at night, all over the street, jet skis and everything else. We were here two nights after that. So the next night I said to Joan, “We better get down,” cause I heard that boat moving and I didn’t want my bulkhead ruined. At 3:00 in the morning we got down [from the attic and] we went out and pushed the boat off the bulkhead. So the boat went floating away.

Joan:    Oh and you know the fires they had by The Thunderbird? You could see them from here on the deck. So I thought it was a television crew with their lights you know broadcasting. And then we found out later on that was all the fires we were watching.

Two doors down from us, Helen, she left her car, her granddaughter came down and got her. And during the storm you could see [the lights on her car] flashing, and the trunk opened up so it must of shorted out.

Bob:    When the water hit the battery it all started like fireworks in the car, lights all went on for a couple seconds and I said, “There goes Helen’s car cause the water got to it.” That’s before I knew it got to my car too.

Two days later I walked over to find my car all flooded. I looked in and there was water up to the console in the middle of the car. I only had 16,000 miles on that car but that’s the only thing we had insurance on. We didn’t have flood insurance.

We had this house built back in ’68 and we didn’t need flood insurance then. We had a mortgage in ’68 but that was paid off many years ago. When we did have a mortgage we didn’t have to have flood insurance, they didn’t require it then.

Bob:    The next morning they were all tipped over in the water, boats sunk out here [in the lagoon], and boats were laying all over the place and you know [it was] just devastation all over.

Joan:    My neighbor over there had a boat float onto her porch. It just floated right in, just like you guided it in and didn’t hit the house.

Bob:    Sitting

on the land. Pushed in her porch windows and everything.

Joan:    The guy on the corner, his two jet skis floated I think down by the bay beach plus his boat went somewhere. The woman over there lost a sailboat. And we even had a canoe over here [on the porch], we don’t know where that came from.

Bob:    Well, we came back about two weeks later in a bus and the boats were still all over. Then we were allowed in once a week for a little bit and the boats started to be put back so, I’d say maybe a couple months to get it all back in order. Or maybe a month to get all the boats righted up.

At any point during the storm did you feel especially endangered?

Bob:    No, I just felt teed off. We weren’t scared. We just weren’t afraid but I was mad. It was quite an experience that’s all.

Joan:    The next day was beautiful, the sun was out.

Bob:    And my grandson called up and he said, “I’m gonna try to get down to get you.” He came to the Mantoloking Bridge and he couldn’t get any further because that was wiped out. So he saw a friend of his that used to live on this street and he said, “Peter is your boat in?” Peter said, “No, but I’m putting it in tomorrow.” So the next day Todd came down and he met Peter over in Green Island and Peter had his boat[with him.

Joan:    Peter’s boat was a little Boston Whaler.

Bob:    Peter came over here on his boat and picked us up [and] took us over to Green Island.

Joan:    When we left here I had two black garbage bags and we were bag people. That’s what we left with, because we figured [we would be] coming back but we didn’t get back until, God weeks afterwards I guess it was.

[But] God forbid something did happen to this house I have to have proof we own it. So we took [the deed to the house] and we took the stuff for the car. Maybe birth certificates, stuff of importance that we know we can’t replace one, two, three.

Bob:    Taxes, anything we needed for insurance purposes.

Joan:    Well, anyway a Boston Whaler is what pulled up over to the side of the house. So now we had to get down into the boat, how are we gonna get down? We’re not young people. So we got help and we got in the boat. That turned out alright.

Bob:    We rowed across the bay and the helicopters were flying around. And we’re the only boat in the bay. The Helicopters were circling over us. We went over there [to Silverton] and my grandson picked us up in a car and then drove us up to Montvale.

So that’s how we got out.

But all the gas stations were closed cause there was no electricity. Since Todd didn’t have that much gas he didn’t know if he was gonna make Montvale or not. So we stopped in Belleville and everybody was scrounging around for gas and his uncle in Belleville had gas for the lawnmower. So, he poured that in the car so we could get up to Montvale.

When you were on the boat could you see any damage?

Bob:    It was absolutely terrible all along. When we rowed the boat out to the bay everybody’s house was damaged. The decks were ripped up and everything else.

When we got over to Silverton the houses were all damaged and boats were all over the streets.

Joan:    Silverton was terrible. Boats, houses, it was like oh my God you couldn’t even believe it. At that time we were the only ones going across the bay but after that they stopped everybody because people were coming in and robbing us. They had the State Police in the boats to prevent people from coming across the bay cause that’s how they were getting in here to rob us.

Bob:    In fact a friend of ours, who works in the [Chadwick Beach] Marina, was coming over to go to work. He made it the first day but the second day the State Police caught him and they said, “Where you going?” He said, “I’m going to work in the Marina.” They said, “No your not. Your turning around and going back.” And they said, “We see you here again your gonna get shot.” They had cops all around here from out of state just to protect people’s property.

Joan:    It was awful. And then we couldn’t get back in until they said that we could.

Bob:    About two weeks later.

Joan:    And then we had to have proof that we lived where we lived and the first time we were allowed to come back we could only stay three hours just to get what you had, what you could physically carry with you. I ended up wearing not much in but going out I had like a jacket on top of a jacket and maybe a pair of shoes in a plastic bag or something cause you weren’t allowed to put anything on the bus that you couldn’t keep on your lap. So what can you bring? Really not much.

Bob:      We came in on Route 37 across the bridge.

We’re coming on the southbound road going [North] because North was all damaged, you couldn’t get through. So they had one lane open on [the] southbound road to go North. And that’s the way we came in. And to see all the houses and the devastation it was horrible you know. First time we came back [on the buses we were] all escorted in from Fisher Boulevard by cops. And the cops were riding around here and then they told us, “It’s time, you have to start getting out now.”

We met a lot of people and everybody was crying and all that kind of stuff. I mean houses were on houses, and houses were across the highway, and houses were all over the place. So you know, it was terrible.

Joan:      Yeah you couldn’t believe Ortley. It got hit bad. It was terrible and really sad.

Bob:        But see that’s what I mean by anticipation. We knew what happened to this house because we stayed. So I didn’t anticipate going back to my house because I knew what had happened. But if I didn’t know that, two weeks later coming in and finding it, I think that I would’ve felt a lot worse because it would’ve been more of a shock. So at least [in] that way staying helped.

How was the damage to your home?

Bob:    Well, we felt very very bad. I mean even though we had seen it we felt bad. And we just felt like what are we gonna do? We can’t live here.

Joan:    There wasn’t really destruction to the house itself but then you have to worry about the mold. And then we had all carpeting so we had to start ripping up carpet to make sure that there wasn’t any mold growing here. Because you know you close up your house leaving thinking your gonna be able to come back, not 2 weeks later. But we were lucky that we were here to be able to rip up some of this carpet and get it off of floors. Where other people didn’t know what [damage to expect] and the mold just stayed.

Bob:    Yeah, we came back to do that with my grandson. We took up all the appliances, refrigerator, cut these walls half down. We took everything out, all those walls Current16out. It was just sticks.

We’re up at our daughter’s house and we couldn’t stay up there because we had to do things down here. One day a FEMA guy calls up and he says, “I’m standing in the street at your house. You know can you meet me down here.” And we said no we’re two hours away, we can’t meet you now. So to schedule appointments like that we had to be closer. So we had to find out what was for rent and finally we had this unfurnished house in Holiday City.

It cost us $1,100 a month. Normally they would’ve gotten like $700-800 a month rent but as soon as this storm happened all the rents went up.

Joan:    We were lucky to get [the place in Holiday City] because there was nothing around and as quick as they were listed they’re gone. So we said well lets take this. We stayed there for 11 months.

Bob:     We were anticipating who we had to get to fix [the house]. You had all kinds of contractors in here and you didn’t know who to trust because they were coming from all over. So finally we got [a contractor] through a friend of ours. There were two houses to do before ours so, we had to wait for the contractor to get to our house. Which was probably around May. We had the heat put in and then he went back and forth cause he was working between the three [houses]. But it was completed in…

Joan:    October-November of 2013. And that’s when we moved back in.

How has Hurricane Sandy shaped your community? Do you think it brought you closer together?

Joan:     Well, yeah because we’re all in the same boat.

Bob:      Joan was president of the Senior Citizens club. They all went down there and got together and I think it did [bring people closer together] because people were calling us more often and you know the camaraderie I think got better.

Joan:     I wanted to get back here to have some kind of closure with everybody. Like where are they? Where is Meghan’s grandmother and grandfather? Were they damaged? Pat Parlow, where is she? Where’s Carmen? Where’s this one? You know what happened to all their homes? So that was another reason, at least we could all get together and go out for lunch or talk, you know something social like it used to be. We were trying to get it as normal as possible.

How have you dealt with the emotional aspect of living in a devastated area?

Bob:       It’s not good, it takes some years off your life so to speak. I think it made us older faster, I really do, it takes a lot out of you. It really affected us that way, it really did.

Joan:      Everybody you talk to says the same thing, we can’t remember things and I think you get more upset. You can see it in all of us.

What do you think are some lessons for the future that should be learned from Hurricane Sandy?

Joan:      I think when they tell you to evacuate you should go and not hang around. Looking back I think that we were foolish to stay. I think we should’ve really gone. I think it was selfish on our part to stay.

Bob:       [It was selfish] for our kids because they didn’t know what was happening [to us]. Yeah, I put my grandkids through a lot.

Interviewed by Meghan O’Brien
Assisted by Shannon Yeager and Allison Jones
Edited by Meghan O’Brien
Chadwick Beach, New Jersey
Recorded March 16, 2015