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A renewal in faith

Bob and Pamela Vazquez

Bob and Pamela Vazquez are residents of Union Beach, New Jersey. During Hurricane Sandy, they chose to stay in their home, with Pamela almost drowning twice from the storm surge. Their home sustained tremendous damage from the storm, and they are still struggling to recover. In their narrative, they describe how their experiences during the storm and the volunteer work they did after led them to embrace Christianity. They chose to be baptized in the Raritan Bay, the very body of water that ravaged their home during the storm.

Can you tell us your experiences as the hurricane was taking place?

We stayed at home and just stood there and watched the water just destroy all the homes. The wind also sounded like a freight train. It was like the Wizard of Oz. It just rocked our house. We ended up with water in the basement so we knew we lost the basement. So, we moved up in the apartment that was above our garage and just watched all the homes on the block get destroyed as well as ours. We were in water for about two and a half hours. When we were fully submerged in the water with our big dog, we just remember standing in the threshold of the doorway and just watching the water rip through our home. You could just see the waves coming in and destroying our home. Next thing we knew, we were on our butt and we came back up spitting water out. It was pretty scary. We were just happy that we didn’t get killed.

Can you tell us about your experiences living in temporary housing in Fort Monmouth?

They did put us up in temporary housing and we were at Fort Monmouth. It was nice to have our own place and it was a place to be but eventually, they just started kicking people out with nowhere to go. But, Pamela started the food pantry in the building. We had an old linen closet and we would get dry goods and all for people in the building. It was through Gateway Church of Christ, the Church we go to, and we set it up and would go down to the food bank, picking up supplies, and bringing them back to people in the temporary homes. We were able to have Thanksgiving meals, so everybody got a turkey. That was really nice. It was a way to bring happiness back again.

Why did you turn to faith after the storm?

I think for us it was, it seeing all of these people coming in, and for the most part, they were all faith-based and they had this desire to come and help people and we didn’t know where they were getting it. So, we thought we needed to be a little more like them. We started studying a little bit about it and we decided that’s what we wanted to do. So, we decided to follow Christ and when we came to make the decision about being baptized, we knew we wanted to be baptized in the water that almost destroyed us and almost killed us. So, we went back into the bay and we got baptized in the bay.

They asked us what must we do to be saved. We replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and we will be saved-us and our household.”

How have you gone about the process of rebuilding?

Right after the storm when our house was gone, we were just so happy that we didn’t get killed. We believed that our insurance was going to cover everything. So we thought, ok we can just build another house. Shortly after, we found out our insurance wasn’t going to cover anything. We didn’t get a penny from insurance. We didn’t know what we were going to do. However, right after the storm, we weren’t coming back. We said, “We don’t care what happens to that property, we aren’t going back.” But, the more we thought about it, the more we realized that it’s our home and it’s the home we knew and our grandkids knew. We had all the holidays and birthdays there and we needed to have that back. So, we had to find a way to fight for that and see what we can do.

People live in the mountains, people live in the city, and people live near the ocean, and each place has a different feeling. It’s the kind of person that you are and you are attracted to people like that. The people around here are very laid back. This place isn’t Seaside or Point Pleasant where it’s a resort area. People like this place for a different reason. They like the water, they like to fish or crab, and they like to take the boats out, and things like that. It’s just a different kind of feeling. We wanted that feeling back.

Tell us more about your experiences with the volunteer groups

The house didn’t get any money from our insurance company. We were fortunate enough to get the REM grant, but if it weren’t for the volunteer groups coming in to help us, as they have helped so many people, we’d never be where we are now. There is no doubt in our minds about that. We know for a fact that, whether it was monetary donations or labor donations, we would’ve never been in this condition.

The grant basically paid for the shell of the house, but not the foundation. Everything else has been money that we had or that people have donated. All of this was put together with the sweat, tears, and love from the volunteers. It was the local Church and civic groups that came together to help their communities. However, the community itself really couldn’t help each other out because everybody was in need.

Over eighty percent of the homes were affected by the storm here. So, it’s great that people from out of state and farther away from different towns have come to help out.

Yeah, so it is great. They come in and Pam and I share our story with them and talk about what we went through and how we became Christians from the storm. So, that’s cool because they’re a lot Christian groups so it’s neat that we can share that with them. Also, it is life changing for them. They get to come in and see what’s going on.

Tell us about your experiences that you had after the storm.

My two sons came, they were both in their uniforms when they came, and they came to help and there was nothing they can do for us. There was nothing really you could do. So, they just went around the neighborhood, just saving American flags and this house behind us has this crow’s nest on top. They were putting flags up on the crow’s nest. But they found a casket flag. They recognized that that was a flag you drape over a casket. So, at that time, you could go to the first aid squad or the firehouse, and if you were looking for something or if you found something of value of someone else, you could take it and leave on the tables that were set up. They asked if anyone looked for a flag and they said no but you could leave it here. They both said nope. We’re not leaving it. But, they both left their cell phone numbers and that they were both leaving town and if you think it might be yours, let us know. So, Christopher had to go back to work in a week or so and Brock had to go back to Virginia and last thing he did was hand me the flag and said, “Promise you won’t give this flag to anybody but the person who it belongs to.” So, got a phone call a couple of days before Christmas. A guy, his sister lived across the street, said, “I think you may have something that’s mine.” And I said, “Yeah, I think I got it.” But, my sons will be together after Christmas and I would like for them to give it to you. It was just awesome. It was their father’s flag. It was the only thing that they found. Their whole house was destroyed. So, it was great that they were getting that back. It was pretty cool. That was a touching thing. Of course, we were proud of the boys. It was something for them to do. It was incredible.

Also, a day or two after the storm, my boss asked, “oh Bob, what do you need? Make a list of everything you need.” We responded, “How are you supposed to make a list of what you need when you have absolutely nothing.” We found everything: my son’s shoes, his pants, shirt, hat, cabinets, everything. However, there wasn’t much to demolish. It was all just in a pile.

How have you continued to raise awareness about the devastation from Hurricane Sandy?

We had opportunities to go out of state-Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Connecticut, and other places-to go talk and tell our story. Faith is important to us and that’s why we go. We share that but also to raise awareness. It has never been about us. It’s been about raising awareness for our community. We were always telling them, “don’t believe in the commercials because the Jersey Shore is not back.” It’s far from back. I try to compare it to Katrina and it’s so much different because people walked away from their homes. They got their government money and walked away from their homes. But in communities like this, people aren’t walking away from home unless they are forced to. They want to rebuild their homes. People had no idea that Union Beach was still suffering so much. You have to keep the awareness out there and let people know that the Jersey shore is not back yet.

Interviewed by Evan Gingrich
Edited by Evan Gingrich
Union Beach, New Jersey
Recorded June 18, 2015