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We have so many people to lean on

Angela and Daniel O’Cone

Angela and Daniel O’Cone are high school teachers living in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. They bought and renovated a new home less than a year before Hurricane Sandy caused severe damage to it. While trying to rebuild, they faced many challenges in attempting to claim their losses from insurance companies. Luckily they had the support of their friends and family to help them every step of the way.

 

How long have you lived in Point Pleasant?

Angela: We owned a house in Brick for ten years and sold it the December before the storm, and we bought our house in Point Pleasant Beach the January before the storm, and gutted and renovated our house prior to the storm. We were in our house for about four months, and then the storm came and we had to re-renovate and gut our house again.

How close is your home in relation to the shore?

Angela: We’re two blocks from the ocean, and the backside of our house is along a lake, so we had both sources of water affect our house: the lake and the ocean.

Have you been affected by previous natural disasters, like Hurricane Irene?

Daniel: Growing up in Lavallette, for me, I lived on Route 35, which is one block from the beach. We went through Hurricane Gloria where we had to evacuate in ’88. Every hurricane that came through, we kind of were used to “batten down the hatches, get your food, get your supplies,” so I was used to this. I was prepared for Sandy; not of this magnitude, but being a resident of the beach, we kind of knew what we were in for.

Would you mind expanding on how you prepared?

Daniel: I went to the gas station, I filled up both of the gas tanks.

Angela: We tried to raise everything up in our garage.

Daniel: We got candles, we got flashlights, we got batteries, we got dry goods, we got all the food we can get, and then we evacuated. We took our cars to…

Angela: My parents’ house, which is over the train tracks in Point Pleasant Borough. So they live maybe about a mile and a half away from us, but they were not affected at all. So we evacuated the morning of the storm, and then the storm came, and everything we did was for nothing. Even the stuff that we raised. It was kind of silly. We thought that just by raising it we would salvage something, but the furniture was tossed over, and everything, all of our belongings, were destroyed.

Were you worried about any damage to your home?

Angela: No. We didn’t think that it was going to be what it was.

Daniel: Well, to be honest with you, I don’t think we were ever worried about the damage. For us, it was just things. It wasn’t people, it was just items, and to us, items are replaceable. Understand guys, we only lived in the house for six months, total. We took all of our savings, all of our stocks, all of our bonds, any savings we had, when we sold our home and we bought this house. We’re both teachers, and we gutted and remodeled the house we lived in for six months, and then the storm hit. So it was more: we did all this hard work and now we’re out again. We only owned the house for six months.

Angela: We were upset to see all of our hard earnings be put into our house and then the storm had taken it.

So was this a bad step back?

Angela: Yeah, and you know what? Even though it’s unfortunate, I think through this all, we have always focused on the positives. We have great family and friends that have supported us, and makes the experience manageable, because we have so many people to lean on.

Daniel: I think the people that have the most problems are people that don’t have that support, and the people that don’t have this support are the ones who are really in trouble.

Angela: When we sold our house in Brick and we bought this house, we renovated for so long that we lived with my parents. Then after the storm we moved back with them, and I know for a fact that every single person doesn’t have that opportunity to just be able to move.

Daniel: Those are the people that are hurting. The people that are coming here today, they’re the people that don’t have help, and the elderly or the people that – family don’t live around here – those are the people that really were hurting.

Angela: So we had our family to lean on, and we have a great group of friends that have helped us literally move out of our house, move into our house, move out, and move in.

Daniel: I coached wrestling at a high school, and they moved me in the first time, they gutted the house and threw everything in the trash the second time and then they moved me in again, so we’re lucky.

What did you do after the storm?

Angela: Well, initially, when the storm first hit, we weren’t allowed back into our house for safety reasons, and then eventually we were allowed back in our house and at that point, we had to get rid of everything that was wet and salvaged the things that we could. So actually, volunteers through the Masonic lodge here had helped us box things and pack things.

Daniel: People that I wrestled with at The College of New Jersey came to help me. Just having friends. It’s the people you have around you that were just willing to give up for themselves.

Angela: So this was every day, we were just doing something. Either packing the things that we could salvage, or throwing the things that we couldn’t. Then for a while, our house just sat. We were waiting for insurance money so that we could start rebuilding, and actually our contractor started without any money in his pocket, and just started on his own accord to get us back into the house. He was the original contractor that helped us renovate the house.

Daniel: For three months, he built it with no money. He said to me, “Dan, we’re going to rebuild your home, so we’re not going to worry about money, until you get the money…”

Angela: Things like that don’t happen to a lot of people… And I think that’s what’s gotten us through, and I think we’ve been so fortunate.

So did your parents’ house sustain any damage while you were there?

Angela: We were actually out of power for about a week and a half. Which – the first couple of days is okay. But after that, with a two-year-old… it becomes not so fun.

Daniel: No hot water, no TV, no shower… yeah, it becomes a pain.

You mentioned before how you couldn’t go back to your house after the storm first hit. Back in Seaside, they had a quarantine for people because of all the water damage. Was it similar?

Angela: Similar, but not as extensive as Seaside. The storm hit on Monday… I want to say Thursday, we were allowed back in our house. Either Thursday or Friday.

Daniel: From the train tracks east, no one was allowed in. It was all quarantined because of downed wires, because of gas leaks, because of things floating in the street, trucks left running. There was a car floating in the middle of the road, and it looks like someone just bailed out. They had police at every cross-street, so Tuesday I snuck in. They kind of chased me a little bit, I ran from them, and I ran back to my house just because I wanted to see what the heck was going on my property, and it was devastating.

With respect to quarantining, when you came back in, how do you feel that your municipality responded to it? Do you think they did a good job?

Angela: I think they did what they had to do. They definitely blocked off that area for our own safety. In retrospect, now that we’ve covered our things, and were able to see the water and the moisture damage in the house, I think if we were to get to it earlier, it would’ve helped our situation. But I think we understand why it was done.

Daniel: Right. Again, everything our house was brand new from the floor, to the ceiling, to everything in between. So understand that. The cabinets were warped, not because water ever touched them, but because water sat in there for six or seven days.

Angela: And everything was brand new, so in the long run that has helped us with insurance, because after years of use… it’s not the value price. It depreciates, but for us, because everything was brand new, we weren’t really affected by that.

Daniel: This is a funny story. As we’re buying all of our stuff back, we’re back in the house, and, my wife and I, we go to buy the appliances. My wife has the receipt with all the appliances that we just bought. So when we hand the thing to the guy, he looks down and goes, you were here last year, on the same day, buying these same appliances. And on the sheet it had the day. I said to the guy, “yeah, we just got wiped out by Sandy.” He’s like, “whoa, holy smokes,” so I thought that was funny. Like, stroke of luck, right on the same day.

What did the town look like after the storm?

Daniel: There were a couple boats that had to be in somebody’s yard. All of the wooden sheds that were in the back of peoples’ yards had lifted up and floated. Fences were broken down.

Angela: Our neighbor at the end of the street had a shed that was literally stuck in between two trees, hanging from them.

Daniel: Power lines were down. Stuff that was in peoples’ yards, like a kiddy pool, or somebody’s lawn furniture were in other peoples’ yards. There were garbage cans from across the lake that must’ve floated across, and now were in my backyard, I mean, like a quarter of a mile away because they had the address on it. It was just… chaos. Chaos.

Angela: Unbelievable. And I think the first realization of how serious it was, was when we came back over the railroad tracks the one day, and everyone was allowed now to bring their stuff to the curb. And the town – which the town did a great job doing that – picked up all the peoples’ garbage, all of the belongings that were outside peoples’ houses… It was devastating for us to see that. I think that was our first realization how bad this really was, because everyone’s house was literally outside on the lawn.

How would you say Sandy affected the Point Pleasant community?

Angela: Mrs. DiCorcia and Chip DiCorcia both were in charge of running this volunteer group, the Masonic Lodge, of which my dad was one of the volunteers, and they would form groups that would go out to each house, and kind of assess what the needs were and help out different people. It was not resources that we really needed, because our insurance company was dealing with that. But for people that didn’t have insurance, they were so helpful. I mean, my dad would spend days there, cleaning.

Daniel: Cleaning people out, helping… me personally, I don’t know what the climate is in the town yet because we’re not fully rebuilt. On our street – we just had Halloween – we didn’t have one trick-or-treater. On our street, 18 homes on our block, there’s only four people in. That side of town is not back in. And if you weren’t a part of it, you just don’t know. You saw the pictures, you just can’t imagine. In this town, it’s almost two separate things. If you were east of the track, you got wiped out. If you were west of the track, you helped. Two different sets of people, that’s how I see it. Because west of the track, they don’t understand, east of the track got wiped out.

Do you think that your neighborhood is, right now, cleaned up?

Angela: I think that Point Pleasant was one of the few towns that were very eager to help all the residents, and the amount of cleanup, the garbage cleanup, is unbelievable. When you think about just one house…

Daniel: There was probably a four-story pile of garbage up by the beach. They just took one of the parking lots, and they just made it into a garbage dump.

Angela: And they would remove it every day. It’s everyone’s things. Refrigerators, ovens, things that take up a lot of space, all out on the lawn, and the town really did a good job with cleaning that, and helping us. That would’ve been an additional cost for us if we didn’t have that. That would’ve been dumpster costs and garbage removal costs. The town did that on their own accord.

Daniel: We’re talking about emotions and feelings – something that I didn’t understand that really aggravated me, and then I kind of tried to understand it later: the scrappers. Guys that pick up metal. So here, all my stuff is outside by my house: my washer, my dryer, all this stuff. And now these scrappers are coming by, they’re picking my stuff up and throwing it in their truck, and they’re taking it away for money. I was so upset. I was like, you’re stealing my stuff, but my stuff is garbage, it’s washed out, you know what I mean? My washer and dryer, I can’t use it anymore because it’s garbage. The motor’s shot. So I didn’t understand that until the lady from FEMA said this is really helping the community, because it’s taking all the stuff out. It’s less for the town to take, and someone’s benefitting from it. Even though I don’t understand – kind of a little shaky about it – but somebody made money on it, and they took it out, and it wasn’t stuff I had to get rid of. I didn’t have to worry about getting rid of my refrigerator or all my stuff like that. They took it.

Going to FEMA, how do you feel that they responded? When did they first come in?

Angela: Actually, in the first week, they had sent someone. We have both homeowners’ insurance and flood insurance, so because we had flood insurance, we weren’t eligible for much through FEMA. The only thing that we were eligible for was initial housing, so we had gotten a check for initial housing fees so that we had a place to stay. But other than that, we didn’t receive any money. That’s been frustrating.

Daniel: We’re both educated, we’re both hard workers, we both teach, we’ve both been employed for 15 years teaching, and it’s kind of like because we do the right thing and we work hard, we don’t qualify for a lot of things that maybe people that aren’t as fortunate as us were able to.

Angela: We don’t make a lot of money. And our frustration has been… we still are paying off bills from our initial renovation, so we have that in addition to the new renovation. Which has been a struggle for us, and we’ve never really struggled. A lot of the opportunities and money that’s been provided for people usually do not incorporate what our makeup is, what our family dynamic is. Which has been tough, because there’s been a few times… although we had flood insurance, and our flood was covered, we only had our contents covered under our homeowners’ insurance, and we didn’t realize that we needed to have it under both. So literally all of our contents, we’ve had to pay for ourselves, which can be a daunting amount of money sometimes.

What was the biggest challenge in rebuilding?

Angela: Having to wait for our money from our insurance company. In December, we received a $10,000 check from our insurance company, which doesn’t even scratch the surface of the amount of money we needed. So we just sat on the $10,000 and waited until we got more money. Our first check that we got was at the end of February, and I remember I was at Home Depot buying things with my mom, and Dan had called me. And I was so happy that we felt like we were finally moving forward. And that was hard, waiting. Watching our house sit there, we just wanted to get moving, and get back to our house.

Daniel: The same exact time that we did it the year before, we were doing it again the next year, so we were like, is this really happening?

Angela: So, I think the waiting was the biggest part. The day that the storm hit, we had a phone call in to both our insurance companies, and we never waited. We were on top of everything.

Daniel: Yeah. Calling them constantly once a week, emails, everything, like get to our house, and check it out.

Would you like to share any stories with the storm?

Daniel: I just think the constitution is strong. Considering some of the things that happened, we had our insurance company come in, and they contracted the cleanup company to clean our house up three or four days after we were allowed back in. And in our garage, I had shelves that went up six feet high. The water went up five feet, so from five feet up I had shelves that weren’t’ touched by water. So the company that got contracted to clean out our house, they had to subcontract a company because they were overbooked. Well, the subcontractor stole all my power tools. All the ones that were still working. They stole everything. So, you see the evil of man: not only were all of our belongings out on the street, but here, these guys came in that we hired, and they stole everything. I mean, stole everything, because the insurance company ended up giving us some money to cover what was taken, but it was never enough. So I just think you really see, with chaos, there’s always opportunity, and some people will take that opportunity to do good, and some people will take it to do bad. So that’s kind of what we were like: we’re down, you want to continue to kick us? We kind of just came through it like, alright…

Angela: And I really do think, it was the fact that we had all of our friends helping us. I can’t begin to explain to you that every day was another thing that we had to do, and every day we had at least fifteen people in our house, stopping by to say “I’ll go get food,” “I’ll go get lunch,” “I’ll help you pack…”

Daniel: Yeah, “I can do this,” “I can do that,” and us as a couple, I think it made it easier for us. There wasn’t any tension and any fighting with us, because we felt like we were covered, at least with our friends.

So it sounds like for the most part, it brought your community together, though some people took advantage of it?

Daniel: It did. I think the people that took advantage of it weren’t from the community. It’s really hard to steal from your friend, but if you don’t know the person, you could take whatever you want. So I would say it feels like it did. To bring us together more.

You’re both educators, so were there any conflicts with getting back to work? How long did that take? And getting benefits?

Angela: Well, we were actually out of school for two weeks. My school, actually one day in between those two weeks, had school. I just took a personal day for that day. So even though it affected our school year, and we had to make up a lot of the days, it helped us, because personally we were involved in the storm. And so we had time to get our things together, so it actually worked out for us in a sense, where we didn’t have to miss work. The two weeks that we were out of work was the two weeks that we really got our things done. It was kind of convenient, in a sense – I mean, I don’t know if you would want to call it “convenient,” but it was. We didn’t have that worry of “I have to get back to work, and I have to deal with this.” So we were out of school for the two weeks.

Daniel: Well for me, I teach in Brick, and Brick has the most waterfront property in New Jersey, so I had a ton of kids that were affected by the storm too, that I just didn’t see for two or three weeks after school started. And some, I never saw again because they had to move somewhere – their houses were just destroyed. I could relate to what they were going through, I understood, and for them I felt bad because here… you have kids who are seniors in high school and wanted to do everything he wants to do as a senior, and he’s got to move to Bound Brook to finish out his senior year, to live with his grandma. So, as educators, we kind of tried to work it in too.

Angela: And I have to say that both Dan’s school and my school, and this is kind of going back to the support that we had, both have collections that were given to us, and a great amount of money that really helped us out.

Daniel: Our teachers’ union gave us $1,000 each.

Angela: And it was few and far between that we were eligible for things, but our union, we were eligible with our own schools that raised money for us. And then, there was also a community outreach program – It’s called SERF – that we were eligible for money through them too. And that was so helpful, because we were able to afford appliances, and then we were able to buy a bed for our daughter, a bed for ourselves… so that was helpful.

What would you say are lessons for the future that anyone could learn from Sandy?

Daniel: I hate to say anything negative, but I think that you have these huge organizations like the American Red Cross… I never saw the American Red Cross once. They have millions or billions of dollars, and not once did we get anything from them. Maybe that’s not what the Red Cross is for. Maybe they’re not to help Americans… but we’re people in America, it seems like they’re helping people everywhere else. I was really disappointed. I know they do good things – I just never saw them do anything good for anybody here, not even people I know were really down on their luck. Maybe they didn’t have money, maybe they didn’t have food, maybe they didn’t have anything. The American Red Cross wasn’t here. To me, that was upsetting. Make sure you donate to the correct organization. Make sure you support organizations that are going to support you. The grassroots organizations are the people that are willing to get money, and get down, give you a hand and help you out of whatever. You talk about friendship and all that, but that’s kind of one thing that sticks in my mind. When I see these Red Cross commercials, “donate and help people,” nobody needed help more than the people at the Jersey Shore. In Louisiana, they were there to help, and they helped all those people out.

Angela: And it makes you wonder if they really were.

Daniel: Right, yeah. Those pictures of them working in Louisiana, and doing all those things… are they saying they did the same thing here? Because I can tell you – I was here – never did I see them. Ever. So be careful who you donate to. Make sure that company is really going to, because I wouldn’t ever again. Never.

Daniel: It’s the people you surround yourself with, or the people in your lives, are the most important thing. You find out who your friends are when you’ve got to shovel out your garage that has two feet of mud in it. Who shows up to help out on Saturday is your friend, because nobody wants to do that. That’s the guy, really, that you’re going to be friends with for the rest of your life.

Interviewed by Rudy Tresvalles and Liam Munz
Edited by Gina Palmisano
Point Pleasant, New Jersey
Recorded November 9, 2013