WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
In Return To Sayreville, Town Looks All But Abandoned
Saturday, December 22, 2012
Sayreville was one of the first places Governor Christie went to survey post Sandy damage in the days after the storm. Now, in the hard hit section of town near Raritan Bay, the houses stand empty and the attention is gone.
On the morning before Governor Christie toured the New Jersey coastline with President Obama, he made a stop in the Old Bridge section of Sayreville. On William Street, surrounded by a scrum of photographers, he was besieged by traumatized residents vying for his attention.
This ethnically-diverse, working class neighborhood had barely recovered from Irene last year.
"We thought we were so prepared, so ready this time because of last year," said Samantha Hartung. The storm had nearly destroyed her home’s foundation.
Christie got up close, lowered his voice almost to a whisper and looked Hartung in the eye.
"You were ready. But you weren't ready for anything like this. This was just the worst. This is the worst storm the state has seen," Governor Christie said.
Now, just before Christmas, the Governor hasn’t been back, the press is mostly gone, and there were no holiday lights twinkling on William Street.
A Sayreville patrol car sits idling to ward of looters. Many of the 60 homes in this neighborhood have orange and pink stickers plastered on their front doors that read "this building is declared unsafe for human occupancy."
Alexander Weiler is sitting in his car outside his former home.
"Right now, I am having a hard time finding an apartment to move into cause its me and my son," Weiler said. "We got the money to move into except our credit is not that great and they won't give us the benefit of the doubt."
Samantha Hartung pulls up along side and seeks some advice from the avuncular Weiler. She is trying to figure out what to do with her electrical panel.
“My father actually came in and put in support beams so that the house would not totally fall apart because we don't know if we have to fix it or not,” Hartung said. “And I don't know if we have to redo the whole electrical thing. I really don't know my next steps."
That’s a problem for many of these folks. Salt water has badly damaged their electrical systems and it’s not safe to rebuild until the wiring is replaced. But for many people in this neighborhood, they don’t want to rebuild a second time.
"Last year we got about four feet of water in the basement," said Richard Borero, a disabled veteran. "This year we are looking at seven and a half feet. What's it going to be next year? I just want out."
Frank Mazzaroni, who lives on William Street, is in the building supply business and has become an advocate for the neighborhood. Many households couldn't afford flood insurance, he said.
"Last year they raised it from $360 dollars to $3,600 and that's the reason a lot of people in the neighborhood don't have it,” Mazzaroni said.
Now many in Old Bridge do not want to return. Based on his informal survey of the neighborhood, Mazzeroni said, only 4 of the 60 households would turn down a buy out.