Still Riding Out Superstorm Sandy - One Year After

Bayville couple still homeless, caught in a rebuilding nightmare

Frank and Donna Matusik on the lot where their Glen Cove home once stood
Frank and Donna Matusik on the lot where their Glen Cove home once stood
By Patricia A. Miller

The car drove slowly down Maple Street, past battered ranches on slabs, empty lots and homes going up on pilings. The driver stopped the car where number 206 once stood, opened the window and stuck her head out.

"How are you?" she said to Donna and Frank Matusik.

"I'm okay," Donna replied.

"I miss you," the woman said, her voice cracking.

"I miss you too," Donna replied, holding back tears.

They had been neighbors. Neighbors until the night Superstorm Sandy roared into Glen Cove in Bayville and ended the life they once knew.

One year later, the wounds from that monster storm have not healed.  Their neighbor could live in her home now. Instead, she drives over to check on her house occasionally, then leaves.

Why doesn't she stay?

"She's petrified," Donna says. Petrified it could happen again.

Longtime family home lost to the storm

Donna and Frank Matusik's Maple Drive home in the Glen Cove section of the township had been in Donna's family for 42 years. Sandy left four feet of muck and water in their home. It was bulldozed on May 22, too damaged to repair.

"It wasn't good," said Donna, who watched the house come down. "It meant a lot to me."

The Matusik's Superstorm Sandy nightmare began on Oct. 29, 2012. It continues to this day.

Their insurance company, Selective Insurance, paid them $89,000 for their home, which was destroyed during the storm. The Matusiks were insured for the full $250,000. The insurance company contended that the cracked slab foundation was a pre-existing condition.

The couple found that laughable, since they had done a complete renovation of the 800-square foot, two-bedroom house over the past five years.

They applied for a Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) grant from the state's reNew Jersey Stronger program, which distributes federal disaster funds.

"From right off the bat, we realized we probably weren't going to get the money we should have," Frank said. "So we decided to go the modular route."

They began visiting modular home companies in Pennsylvania. They settled on a design, a builder, put down a deposit and secured township approval for their new home.

And they began spending a lot of time at the reNew Jersey Ocean County Housing Recovery Center in the Lakewood Industrial Park. Portions of their paperwork went missing at the center and Frank had to continually bring in new paperwork, he said.

Then came the kicker.

"They told us to stop everything we were doing," Frank said. "They told us if you don't use our builders, you won't get any money."

The couple would have to use one of the approved 40 builders in the RREM program, which now has a backlog of 3,500 homes. They would also have to pick one of several FEMA-approved home designs, not the modular home they had already put a deposit on.

"If I have to lose my childhood home, I want the house we designed," Donna said.

Demolition fund eligibility changes

FEMA also changed eligibility rules for the RREM program in midstream. Previously, homes that were "51 percenters" - meaning homes that had more than 50 percent damaged - could be considered for demolition assistance.

Now to be considered for the RREM program a home has to be in "imminent danger" of collapsing. While over 400 Berkeley homeowners had applied for demolition funds, now only 23 homes meet the new standard, township officials have said.

So chances are, anyone counting on help with knocking their house down will have to find the money somewhere else.

Fortunately, the Matusiks had insured the contents of the house for $35,000, which they did receive, along with a $10,000 resettlement check from the RREM program. They will put that towards a new modular home.

"If we didn't have the $35,000, we would have walked," Frank said. "We'll have to use the contents money to help buy the house."

"We are moving forward with the modular," he added. "We've given up with the RREM program. We did everything right and we got screwed."

Donna and Frank have lived with friends for an entire year. They have no home to go to. Sometimes they sleep at their business on Route 9 South in nearby Lacey Township.  And living like nomads has taken its toll.

Donna has stress-releated, "full-blown" vertigo, has trouble with her balance and impaired vision. Storm fatigue has deepened into depression.

"I'm just so fed up, I can't tell you," she said.

A message for the Governor

She was so angry she wrote a "huge" letter to Gov. Chris Christie on July 22.

"We already have a modular company hired, our house is knocked down and we are renting while dodging all these bullets that are shot at us," Donna wrote.  "We are very disappointed in the way the program is being run. You keep saying you are all about helping the victims of the storm. But this isn't helping any of us."

More than three months later, not much has changed for the Matusiks.

"I'm worried about you," Donna Matusik's neighbor said to her after she stopped her car on Maple Street last week.

"I'm worried about me too," Donna replied.

Chief Wahoo October 28, 2013 at 12:12 PM
Google her name and YouTube. She has about 7 videos posted already. Worth everyone's time to check them out
Patricia A. Miller October 28, 2013 at 02:42 PM
Please stay on the topic - the plight of some residents after Superstorm Sandy.
grace October 28, 2013 at 03:10 PM
uh oh we just got yelled at by the teacher..lol sorry patricia just 1 more remark and then back to the subject..HOLY CRAP chief wahoo just saw the videos...angelasantoriello you tube...omg ! patricia worth a look especially since you are in the journalism field...
grace October 28, 2013 at 03:13 PM
with all that said these next few days are very sad and emotional for alot of our neighbors and friends..some still out of their homes and jobs. some still not sure if they are elevating. some not sure if they are rebuilding and so on.. the children of this disaster especially needed to be remembered . they are still in other homes than their own, have lost possesions and moved from their neighborhoods...sad still for many..you arent forgotten..
grace October 29, 2013 at 09:12 AM
was brought to tears today .. sorry all you haters but this is so sad..god bless you all


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