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“We Escaped the Wrath of God”

Jimmy and Annie Karol

 Jimmy and Annie Karol are residents in both Oradell and Manahawkin, New Jersey. During Hurricane Sandy, the entire first flood of their house in Manahawkin was flooded by the storm. Their boat floated into their next-door neighbor’s home, and their floating dock flooded into their pool. In their narrative, they discuss the horrors of returning to their damaged house and the seemingly endless recovery process. 

Why did you choose to live in Manahawkin?

We just loved the environment. We had the best of both worlds, being on the water and having all the amenities of the local color, which were the restaurants, the bowling alley, and the movie theater. But, we really started there because of our friends. We had friends who had a house down in LBI, like in Manahawkin. We used to go for visits and then convinced us to buy a house there.

As far as Manahawkin, we were into boating, jet skiing, and stuff like that so we were able to keep that right behind the home as opposed to trailing them. We’re not on the base; we’re on the canal. We’re on the bayside. And that’s what we love about it. Trailing them was a big pain in the neck so it was a beneficial move for us. It was a nice little neighborhood. It’s a nice community. We had the best of both worlds. It’s a great area. When the storm came, we asked our neighbor Jeff “, what should I do to the house to prepare?” He said, “well, for one thing, I’d pick up the pumpkin and bring it in the house.” I did. I picked it up and brought it into the house and put it on top of the counter in the kitchen and we looked around and I remember looking at our house and saying, “everything will be fine.” Nothing will blow. There was nothing that could possibly blow if we got high winds. So, we drove away.

How did you prepare for the storm?

We told all of our friends that we were going to be down there. We were having a friend’s reunion down at our house in Beach Haven West. However, since the weather was supposed to be bad, they decided to not come.

Because of the timing of being in late October, we already had the boat out of the water and the wave runners out of the water. As a matter of fact, the boat was shrink-wrapped to the trailer. All of the outdoor furniture was put away. We were more worried about down there than up here because that’s where they said it was going to hit. It was basically hitting LBI. We were more worried about that and the eye of the storm. However, I never thought it was going to be that bad. I just don’t know why. I just kind of hooted off like it was just going to be another storm and we’d be fine. We cleaned everything and I looked back and wondered if we were going to be all right. We didn’t say anything to each other and drove up the parkway and that was it. I don’t think anybody realized-I don’t know if we’re just dumb or naïve-but we never thought we’d walk back into that house looking what it looked like.

What kind of damage did you sustain?

They closed the house for about five days. The National Guard wouldn’t let anybody in or out. They didn’t want any people coming in because they were afraid of gas leaks and afraid of explosions. Basically, you couldn’t even get to your own house if you wanted to. So, they just said to stay away. So, that’s what we did. But, we communicated to our neighbor Jeff who stayed at his house during this time.

He called us and said, “You’re not going to believe what it looks like when you come here.” You still can’t picture it or anything until you see it. You almost have that feeling like maybe my house didn’t get it as bad as your house did. And, when we finally got let in, it was just like, “oh my god.” This was not totally fine.

The whole first floor got up to about eighteen inches off the floor. We got five feet from the ground of the house but, because the house was raised up, we only got eighteen inches in the house. But, all the kitchen cabinets were ruined. The entire appliance was ruined. All the furniture, the electricity outlets, and the electricity output was ruined. It was the whole first floor. We’re talking two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room, a dining room, a small family room, and a kitchen. Also, a lot of personal items were gone. You couldn’t even open up drawers. They were totally stuck shut. Beds were molded; all of a sudden the mattresses were soaking underneath so you knew you had to get rid of it. When you feel with your feet the bottom of the lagoon or the bay, that mucky, smell texture-that was all over the place. That was bad. So, it was a matter of everybody going through his or her house and getting everything into the front yard.

The backyard was unbelievable when we got it because, our next-door neighbor has high piles on their bulkhead and we have low piles. We don’t have high ones. Everybody’s garbage came all from their backyards and came into the water, which came into our backyard. We had an above ground pool that was totally demolished; it caved in. That was closed for the winter but it was totally caved in with the picnic table. The sport port that holds the jet ski, the shed, and the playground sets were in the pool. You couldn’t even imagine it. The hurricane literally picked up the boat on the trailer and moved it to my neighbor’s property. That’s how high the water got.

How did you about the process of rebuilding?

The first couple of days the people down there was like, “ok we’re going to barbeque for dinner and do this for breakfast. But then after that, it was like, wait, we have to get our house back.” We have to do something. We need to get back to the point where we can be self-sufficient because living optimistically was ok for the first few days, but after that, it’s just like, wow this is not ok.

At that point, you had a white sticker on your door saying, “You have no electricity.” We had no water. We had no gas because they were afraid of explosions. You basically had to get the town to approve you to make any of those changes, which is understandable because you don’t want to be blowing up the neighborhood. The biggest problem was gas leaks. You don’t see them; you smell them. By the time something blows up, it’s, you know, too late. So, that was a little chaotic to say the least. Because I actually made a comment to my neighbor and I said, “If this ever happens again, I’m turning the gas on and walking out.” You don’t want to have to deal with this again.

Just imagine your cars washed out, you have no house, and you can’t get anywhere; it was crazy. There’s one thing that we haven’t forgotten about this. It was when we first saw the house and Annie said, “I don’t want to this this.” You couldn’t even picture it even if you saw it what it looked like and what devastation was around. I’m not even the one that got the most devastated. There were houses that got totally wiped and destroyed. We’ll never forget that whole memory of walking to the house. If we went through another devastation like that again, we would definitely walk away. It’s not a pleasant thought process.

How difficult has the process been for you and what have you learned from Sandy?

We’ve found a way to escape the wraths from God with all the other storms but this one was shocking to see. We just didn’t take it too seriously. We never thought it would happen. That’ll be the next story to tell you and after how the house will be looking. We love our house and we are proud the way it has come back together after summer. But, we truly love it. It’s the peacefulness and the relaxation of it.

It was like putting a knife through my heart, taking away the house I love so much. You can’t do that to me and we can do this together. So, we started to have people come to start fixing it. It was a lot of money that we took out of our pocket. Also, we basically have all new neighbors and it is sad to see. We hope that we can continue forward with this.

 Interviewed by Evan Gingrich
Edited by Evan Gingrich
Westfield, New Jersey
Recorded July 22, 2015