by Jonathan and Meira
When Superstorm Sandy struck New Jersey, it washed away or flooded many homes. Flooded, too, were the minds of survivors as the process of rebuilding caused enormous strain. Given this, it is hard to believe that there are many survivors like Chuck Griffin. Chuck, a resident of Little Egg and a retired nurse of 20 years, did not know until days after the storm had struck that his home had been flooded by 40 inches of water.
When the evacuation of his residence became mandatory, Chuck and his wife, Roxanne, spent one night in a shelter. This shelter, located in a local middle school, was only able to provide the bare minimum to survivors: “You had a gym mat and a Red Cross blanket and you sat and talked. That was it. At 6 o’clock they had volunteers make … a bite to eat. Then you went back and sat in the dark.” This bare minimum would have been enough if the conditions had allowed Chuck any rest. Throughout the night, people were restless and clamoring. Being a nurse at the time and still working despite the conditions, Chuck left the shelter at 2 a.m. as he could not get his much-needed rest.
Three days after the storm, people were allowed to return to their homes. Chuck’s home was flooded with 40 inches of water. Luckily, his family and community helped him empty out what was left. They even had to saw a brand new sofa into pieces to get it onto the curb. Chuck recalls being amazed by the amount of support within his community: “It was amazing. There were all kinds of people around to help.” Local church members and young men were going door to door to see what everyone needed and help however they could.
However, the mental strain from the storm and the damage it had caused began before Chuck and Roxanne were even able to come back to their home. Due to the fact that some residents had stayed in their houses, the township had to search every home in case of any casualties. Chuck and Roxanne were the first people to return once the township allowed it. Upon returning home, the couple found that the surrounding neighborhoods had become a ghost town. Homes, including the one next door, were abandoned, sold off, or given to the state.
Chuck was slow and strategic in his rebuilding process. In addition to barely fixing up his kitchen, he had only been able to cut out large chunks of his walls to thoroughly bleach them and prevent hazardous mold. While others had already rebuilt their homes or left for good, Chuck was getting by with just necessities. What had once been his home was currently just a shelter. He took his time because he was observing and learning from what his neighbors were doing. When a woman across the street recommended a local contractor to him, he put forth all of his trust. He had no idea that the churchgoing football coach would gamble away his $50,000 RREM grant in addition to money belonging to 41 other victims. Luckily, his grant was refunded when criminal activity was proven. During the two to three years of the case moving from the county to the state, Chuck’s rebuilding process had been severely hindered, but he did manage to find a contractor to rebuild his house in under a year.
Chuck’s wife had a difficult time coming back to their home and wouldn’t stay there for six months after it was completely finished. Chuck is able to look at their home and see the nature surrounding it. Roxanne has trouble seeing the house without thinking of the storm, as Chuck describes: “I look outside and I see dirt and water and all that, but she still feels this is where the storm was. It took away her house.” Because of stress caused by Sandy, Roxanne stays in the house only to sleep. She wakes up early in the morning to eat breakfast at her mother’s home before work. Once she finishes work, she goes back to her mother’s for dinner and stays there for a few hours afterward. She’ll even leave the house on her days off and go to her mother’s. Chuck wishes that he could just have a morning where he is able to sit down and eat breakfast with Roxanne. He hopes that in the future his wife will be able to stay comfortably alongside him in the house.
After Superstorm Sandy, Chuck has become very aware of the way the environment is changing due to global warming. Chuck strongly believes that by the year 2050, the coastline will have moved inward, meaning that land currently situated by the sea will soon be gone. He believes that offshore wind farms will help decrease the speed of rising sea levels. However, Chuck is very aware of how this would affect the work of trawlers, who fish far offshore with long nets. Chuck proposes a solution to avoid great loss of life if a storm like Sandy ever hit the coast again: he suggests that the state could relocate the people who live directly on the coast (such as himself) to a portion of the Pine Barrens. Despite having a myriad of ideas on how to execute damage control, Chuck believes that there may be serious consequences for the next generation.