Jersey Shore residents face cost of rebuilding
NEW JERSEY – The people of the Jersey Shore may feel alone in the world right now, their homes destroyed and their beaches ruined by Hurricane Sandy.
But they will soon face a decision familiar to others who have survived massive storms: do I rebuild? There is a reason New Jersey governor Chris Christie called the destruction Sandy wrought on the shoreline “unthinkable”. The one-time holiday paradise, familiar to fans of Bruce Springsteen, is now a twisted wreck, with remnants of a roller coaster floating in the ocean, and houses erased like they were temporary markings.
“That’s our resort, that’s our Caribbean island, it’s everything to us,” says Rosemarie DiPisa, a New Jersey estate agent who has a home on the barrier island community of Lavallette. With no physical access to the island, she will not know for at least two weeks if her house is still there.
In the days and weeks to come, there will inevitably be a debate about whether there is any point in trying to reconstruct what was lost, as in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward after Katrina or in parts of Miami after Andrew.
The cost of rebuilding quickly can be astronomical, especially as people compete for limited resources, with equipment in short supply and a dearth of contractors. Insurance is unlikely to cover the full cost of rebuilding and replacing damaged belongings, let alone other costs such as renting another home to live in.
It would be one thing if there was a quick path to recovering that investment, but history shows there is not. After Hurricane Camille struck the Gulf coast of Mississippi in 1969, it took a generation for homes in the area to appreciate enough to recoup reconstruction costs. Just don’t tell that to Jersey Shore locals.
“I’ve lived here all my life. I have a loyalty to this town. You can rebuild houses. You can’t rebuild lives,” says Robert Berentes (22).
Berentes is not alone. The ocean breeze seems to get into people’s bones, drawing them back to the shore year after year. DiPisa says the market for million-dollar luxury homes was booming on the shore before Sandy.
But determination to rebuild is one thing and capital is another. How wiped-out homeowners and business proprietors will pay for repairs is still uncertain.
Marie O’Neill was told her insurance would not cover the destroyed contents of Mueller’s Bakery in Bay Head, New Jersey, the business she has owned since 2003, only the building itself.
“We are completely destroyed,” O’Neill sobs. “Everything has a layer of sand and mud.”
And yet O’Neill and her husband plan to rebuild the business, even at an estimated cost of up to $600,000 (€468,000).