By ELINA TARKAZIKIS
The recording of Grey’s Anatomy the night of Oct. 29 shut off just after the lights flickered and finally died. Sitting up from the couch, Georgia Mylonas of Old Tappan grabbed the flashlight she had on standby and switched it on. Knowing that Hurricane Sandy would be hitting that night, Mylonas found the rest of her family around her home and worked with them to light candles and start up the fireplace.
Hurricane Sandy, dubbed a “super-storm,” devastated the east coast when it made landfall in Atlantic City. Within New Jersey alone, the hardest hit state of the storm, 40 lives were taken and approximately 2.7 million were without power.
Mylonas was one of them. She grew impatient as minutes, hours and days dragged on slower than ever without electricity, heat, or available gas for her car. After the tenth marked day of showering in freezing water with no power or hope left, she was in disbelief when her home finally illuminated with lights as the screaming voice of Dr. Bailey came blaring through the speakers of the flatscreen.
“When [the power] came back on, at that point we were so miserable we almost didn’t believe it was back yet,” Mylonas, 46, explained. “…After so much bad news that week it was almost like we were waiting for it to just turn back off.”
The hurricane, a category 2 in open water, eventually became a category 1 when it hit land and tore through the Jersey Shore, leaving victims homeless, jobless and unable to travel. Sandy became the 18th named storm in the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane season.
View Hurricane Sandy and the East Coast in a larger map
Sandy’s Hefty Bill Prompts Major Relief Effort
New Jersey is the state in need of most money for recovery, with an estimated $36.8 billion needed for repairs. According to a written request by White House deputy director of management Jeffrey Zients, “the Administration is asking for $60.4 billion in federal resources for response, recovery and mitigation for all affected states.”
Sandy is on track to becoming the nation’s second or third most costly natural disaster, behind 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and in competition with 1992’s Hurricane Andrew.
Of Gov. Chris Christie’s requested $36.8 billion, $7.4 billion will cover mitigation, protection and prevention, and $29.4 billion will cover repairs and response. This total is higher than the state’s entire annual budget.
State Senate representatives of both parties will continue to host a series of hearings in the Garden State’s most affected regions including southern and coastal areas, where monetary distribution will be discussed. The first took place in Toms River at the Municipal Court on Nov. 26.
According to Matt Friedman of the Statehouse Bureau, “the hearings will be ‘broad in their focus’ to include talk of rebuilding barrier islands and flood prone areas; and improving flood prevention, evacuation, power restoration and residents’ access to their homes in hard hit areas.”
More than a month after Sandy struck, home and business owners still face millions in repair. Some remain without power, some without jobs, and some no longer have homes.
One of the biggest challenges victims face is lack of financial support; they cannot afford to replace and/or repair major losses, and those out of work are struggling to provide for themselves and their families.
Citizens across the country are now working to support sufferers through donations, drives, events and volunteer work. Perhaps the most beneficial relief effort was the “12.12.12” concert held at Madison Square Garden.
The concert donated all money raised to non-profit organizations within the tri-state area, and featured a variety of artists and music groups including Bon Jovi, Kanye West, and The Rolling Stones.
To date, $50 million has been distributed to the non-profits through the “Robin Hood Relief Fund,” the largest poverty fighting organization in the New York area.
Money is still being collected through concert memorabilia and iTunes, CD and DVD sales. Contributors are also donating by bidding on celebrity merchandise and autographed instruments from the event.
Newly formed projects like Townsquare Media of NJ’s “Restore the Shore” have emerged and are working with non-profit organizations like “Hometown Heroes” of Toms River to help rebuild the garden state.
According to its website, the “Restore The Shore” project is dedicated to “creating awareness, raising funds and gathering donations for relief efforts” in shore communities from Sandy Hook down to Cape May.
Townsquare Media, which operates radio stations across NJ, uses “Restore the Shore” to support events and volunteer work for super-storm recovery. The project serves as a platform for companies such as Sports Authority and The Ocean County Theatre Company to spread the word on upcoming recovery efforts.
Previously, the project has promoted events such as a benefit concert starring Chris Daughtry and Three Doors Down in Hoboken, where lead singer Brad Arnold presented a $15,000 check on stage. It has also showcased beach clean-ups and debris removals.
“Restore the Shore” fulfills its purpose by continuing to publicize such events, accepting monetary and material donations, broadcasting volunteer opportunities, and hosting fundraising opportunities such as its upcoming benefit at Eagle Oaks Country Club on Jan. 24.
State-wide, shelters and food banks have also joined forces by hosting donation drives to help local residents in need. In Mahwah, a drive was hosted on Nov. 13 at the Immaculate Conception Church. Among the collected items were things like peanut butter, instant coffee, Chef Boyardee products, new underwear, cat litter, pet food, detergents, and racks for hanging clothing.
Just like other community drives, these items were then distributed to shelters and food banks as well as directly to victims displaced from their homes.
Residents Moving Forward
“Sandy tore down our fence in the backyard, and we had a tree fall on [my husband’s] truck. I mean, we’re upset that it costs decent money and the dogs can’t go outside without a leash, but compared to so many stories we’re pretty blessed,” said Mylonas after Sandy hit. “The fact that we’re all safe and ok is what counts.”
Today, the family has not filed insurance claims, nor do they intend to because “others deserve the help and attention more.” The Mylonas’s have taken matters into their own hands; husband Christos has made a temporary fence out of chicken-wire to prevent the family dogs from escaping, and with the help of his son Thomas, has repaired the passenger light, side-view mirror and replaced the tailgate on his truck, though dents remain.
Hundreds of residents, like Thomas Flynn of Brick Township, were not as fortunate and lost entire homes and/or businesses.
“We are leaning heavily on family and friends for support and are just trying to be thankful that we made it,” said Flynn regarding him and his family after the loss of their primary home. “Even strangers around my area who had generators were leaving extension cords outside so people could come and charge their phones and things to get in touch with people…. even through all this it kinda makes you wanna smile.”
Flynn and his family evacuated Brick when they lost power from heavy wind before the storm became severe in their area. Debris, flooding and gas shortages prevented the Flynns from visiting home until mid-November.
A 40-foot boat washed up onto his lawn, preventing entrance from the front door, so Flynn went in through a rear window opening since the stairs to his side-door were also torn down. Flynn went in alone, and faced the “pretty much unsalvageable damages.”
Flynn felt it would cost “more than a new house” to try to repair his own home, though his brother Stewart argued it is not even repairable and needs to be torn down. As of now, Flynn, along with his two children and wife, are living with Stewart across town.
“We are waiting for claims, insurance and just a bunch of paperwork to be sorted out to see where things go. Things are moving very slow… Stew’s house [in town] is in good shape and we don’t have to worry about the kids and school and what-not so that helps,” said Flynn, explaining his choice not to stay with other family in Edison where he endured most of the storm.
“We have those bad days, and we’re so close-by its hard not to pass home,” says Flynn, “but as silly as it sounds this brought us closer and we’re just saying thank you that we’re ok.”
Like Flynn, Mylonas believes the storm has “ironically” brought the family together.
“We just look at it like we’re safe and we made it and that’s what matters,” said Mylonas. “It’s like, now we appreciate one-another because it was put into perspective what we could lose…it kind-of worked that way in the neighborhoods too- we all came together to help and I know we’re all gonna continue to.”