Denise’s Story

as told by Ricky and Daisey DSC08638.jpg

When Superstorm Sandy first hit, all Denise Vaccaro felt was a sense of panic. She had no direction and didn’t know what to do about the upcoming storm. Denise had to be convinced by multiple people that she had to leave and she barely left with enough time. The day before the storm wreaked havoc, she packed a few things and tried to elevate anything in her home that she could that she could not bring with her. She then threw her small bag into her car and headed to a friend’s house, safe from the storm, not knowing when she would be able to return home.

Denise had to stay with her friend for over a month. Not knowing what happened to her home. Not knowing what happened to her community. Finally, not being able to deal with the anxiety of not knowing, Denise decided to go back and see what had become of her home. She was initially blocked by the police, but convinced the officer to give her five minutes to see it. When she saw her home, she wasn’t sure if she cried or showed any emotion. She was in total shock. She doesn’t even remember how she got back to her friend’s house after that.

It took weeks for Denise to finally start to clean out her home and see what was left of it. She needed to see if the home was salvageable. After all of the cleaning and seeing the destruction,  state and town officials found there was more than 50% damage and there was no saving the house. It would have to be knocked down and rebuilt.

“When the bulldozer was tearing down my house, I saw it more as breaking the bones of my home,” Denise said.  She felt as if her home wasn’t just a physical thing, but a part of who she was and the memories created there. She could feel the pain every time a small piece of her home was torn apart. It took hours for the company to tear down her home because she could not handle her home being demolished. Making the demo process go slowly made it a little easier on her. She knew that they could take it down with a few swift motions, but she wanted to see everything before it was completely gone.

After a long battle for help from state agencies, churches, family, friends and community support Denise was finally able to move into her rebuilt home in 2016, four years after the storm. Her new home had to be lifted  because of flood elevation levels. Everything inside the house is a combination of refurbished items or brand new thanks to the state, Church and community contributions. Denise calls herself lucky, because she knows families who are still trying to rebuild their lives and their homes from the devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy.

Sandy not only destroyed her home, but her community as well. Areas near her had to be rebuilt, but what was built was not what the community had wanted to do with the money that was allocated to help them.  For example, the park because it was not rebuilt to protect from future flooding. It was as if their voices weren’t being heard. Small barriers were put up to help stop flooding, but this seems to be mostly cosmetic since the smallest rainstorms still cause flooding to the area, which is prone to nuisance flooding. In Denise’s opinion the barriers do nothing but make the area look uglier without proper protection and not the beautiful community she once remembered. Her hope is that her town will one day be able to find a way to fix the “anytime” flooding, it doesn’t have to rain.  Sometimes it’s sunny, sometimes it’s a new moon and high tide that causes flooding. We also have to raise more awareness about climate change so that we can start making a difference. 

Denise recognizes that the issue with climate change is something we are going to have to face. She thinks it is a good start is to build offshore wind turbines. Wind turbines use wind to generate electricity.  However, Denise does worry about all of the people who may lose jobs if these factories and generators are replaced. It’s just like Denise to think about how something will affect others. It is something that sticks with her after Superstorm Sandy.  Climate change and the flooding from the storm has caused PTSD. Even though the storm is over people still go through the emotions especially with flooding recurring regularly and no one should have to go through that experience. 

If there is something beautiful to take away from the chaos caused by Superstorm Sandy, it was how people from all over the country helped those in need as best they could. Denise recalled how people she didn’t even know would give her shoes, socks, canned goods, and whatever was necessary for her to get back on her feet. She even received help from churches in other states. This is something that Denise said she will never forget. The support she received really changed her and made her want to help others the same way she was helped.  She feels that we all need to get educated and get the word out about climate change.

Today, Denise helps others try and fix their broken homes and families. She is always volunteering and finding new ways to do charity work. “If I could afford to travel and help people through volunteering and charity work, I would devote all of my time to helping other people,” Denise says. She helps anyone in need, not just victims of storms. She does this because she believes that she was able to rebuild her life and finish her home because of all the good karma she has received. She strongly believes that those who do good deeds, will be rewarded. Even in the face of devastation, Denise was able to find something beautiful and positive from her experience. 

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