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People Just Want to Go Home

D’Arcy Greene

 Margaret (D’Arcy) Greene is a Councilwoman for the Borough of Bay Head, New Jersey. After travelling back and forth between New York, Hong Kong, and New Jersey for many years, Greene and her family decided to make Bay Head their permanent residence, as summers at the shore had always been an integral part of their lives. In her narratives, she discuses the struggle to balance her family responsibilities and the recovery of her own home with her responsibility to her town and state in the aftermath of the storm.

We’ve been living in Bay Head primarily. And I got involved in the community, because it was interesting to transition from not only Hong Kong but from summer resident to full time. So I got involved in the community and the children’s PTA, and then was on a couple of committees and eventually was elected to the council.

How did Hurricane Sandy affect you?

You know, it’s a combination of things. The real challenge for me, especially this year, is to maintain a balance with my responsibilities to my family and our own recovery, and to my community. I have to say in the interest of a truthful and accurate picture of those days after, my family really did come second. I don’t think I made a conscious decision to put my family second but I had to go to many meetings, and that was critical. I spent a lot of time with the OEM, the Emergency Management Coordinator and the police. The mayor and I met with Governor Christie in Mantoloking. The mayor was great, and we worked really well together. With the mayor, we really forced the hand of the state to get the cleanup done. So [cleanup] was a very big challenge that dominated a lot of my time throughout November, December, [and] January.

In terms of our home, we initially stayed. We left on the Monday actually, which was, in retrospect, after the evacuation order, but I had a meeting at 1 o’clock that day. Our son called from New York City, and he said, “What are you doing at home? Get out of the house!” So we took the dogs and our nana, who’s been with us forever, and we just went to friend’s house in Manasquan for a little bit. We then moved to my brother’s house in Point Beach.

When we came back, it was shocking obviously, and very emotional.

Our home is not on the beach, but across the street. The house that was on the beach took off and slammed into us. It was shifted off the foundation, and it was five months until we thought we could rebuild. There was five feet of sand all around. We had a full basement, and it filled to the ceiling with sand and sludge and water because the sewer lines broke. I had stored a lot of things that were important to us in the basement which I should have never done. I mean, it had a laundry area, and all the appliances were tossed like toys. Floating fridges and washing machines. It was just a crazy scene. Houses in that neighborhood were also badly hit just by the storm. It still looks terrible.

What were you thinking before the storm? Did you think it was going to be this big? Did you prepare at all?

Well you know, I don’t think anyone could have imagined what it was. We were hoodwinked by Hurricane Irene. We moved furniture, we moved many things from the basement up to the second floor, and it was kind of an exhausting thing to do. We had water in our basement with Irene. Maybe, 6 or 9 inches or something, which ruined the new washer and dryer, but that was it. We were fine. So I thought, I am not doing this again, you know? And I was foolish not to bring the things we cared about from the basement up to the second floor because I was complacent. I was fooled to think it wouldn’t be as bad. And so, [we] probably didn’t prepare as well as we should have.

What kind of emotions do you think people feel about the storm?  Have people become stronger after experiencing Hurricane Sandy?

I think it’s a mixture of things. I think people [have] moved beyond sadness. There are people who are angry and frustrated because of the aftermath of recovery. You have to move forward and know that there have been strides made, and there have been goals met, and there have been small victories. There is a sensibility within the community of just wanting to finally get to that day, where it doesn’t feel like just another day away from the storm. It’s not normal yet.

When do you think it will become normal, if ever?

I think it will take time. We don’t have a borough hall yet since our town hall was ruined. We’re working at a temporary quarters. Our police are working out of temporary quarters. I think it’s just a matter of time.

What do you think of the government and FEMA’s response?

I think that the initial response, the boots on the ground, was great. I think mostly all the representatives of FEMA were really well meaning people. I mean these are people who are sent to live away from their home for months on end without their families, so I don’t condemn any of the boots on the ground. FEMA was on the ground for a long time, but I suppose it’s unrealistic to think they can be in the community for a longer time. I think better customer service would be a wonderful goal.

What do you think about the state’s participation in its aid?

I was in touch closely with the governor’s office, and we had a few mobile units come down. In our firehouse we had people from banking and insurance, housing, and FEMA. For me, I’ve had very good success in working with the people from DEP. So much recovery was dependent on state and federal agencies, on their ability to move forward.

So moving forward, do you think there is a lesson to be learned from Hurricane Sandy? Will people be better prepared to handle future possible storms?

I believe so, I believe it absolutely. You know there’s a great movement in the environmental community and in the planning community to build differently. People just want to get back into their home. And I think that goal is one that I, as an elected official, want to help them with. I understand the bigger picture, but people just want to go home, and I think that’s the greater goal. I mean I do think people have learned in terms of preparedness for sure, and I think that they probably are stronger and more resilient. There is a strong cohesiveness and a sort of sense of town pride.

Interviewed by Albert Torres and Daniel Quiroga
Edited by Allison Jones
Bay Head, New Jersey
Recorded November 9, 2013