Close to 250 residents jammed into the township Recreation Center in Bayville Monday night, looking for help and answers to deal with the crippling aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
They came from Good Luck Point, Glen Cove, Mill Creek and Toms River shores. And they were tired and confused after dealing with flood and homeowners insurance and FEMA. Many are still unable to return to their homes and don't know when they can.
Township officials have bulked up the number of people available to help residents with permits and inspections, including adding staff from the township's engineering firm and the state Department of Community Affairs.
"We are here to help you," an emotional Mayor Carmen F. Amato Jr. said at the informational session. "This is a horrible situation. This is not easy for me. This is not easy for Jim Byrnes, (Township Council President James J. Byrnes) who lost his house. We will do what we need to do to make it right for you. Whatever we have control over, we change."
All permit fees for renovation work from the storm have been waived for at least the next four months, Amato said.
Raze or rebuild?
A number of residents said they were unsure whether to proceed with demolition or repairs because they didn't know if the base flood elevation requirements for their neighborhoods would change.
"We are all sitting here with our hands tied," said Nancy Seibert, whose Glen Cove home was substantially damaged during the storm. "We don't know what the township wants. We can't even start work. We need to know our new heights."
Others were upset that they had already been informed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that they were denied assistance.
"I did everything FEMA wanted," a Good Luck Point resident said. "I got a letter that we are denied. My wife and I have been staying in a hotel since the night before Sandy."
The man said his homeowner's insurance would not cover any damages.
"I'm paying through the nose and I got zip," he said.
Byrnes said his homeowner's insurance company said they would only pay for wind damage, nothing water-related.
"I felt like taking a two by four and throwing it through the window," he joked.
Amato and a FEMA official urged residents to file appeals of insurance decisions.
"Push for a denial letter," the mayor said. "There is an appeal process."
"If the community deems your property to be substantially damaged, get a letter from your municipality...file a second opinion," the FEMA official said.
The U.S. Small Business Association provides low interest federal disaster loans for homeowners, renters and businesses, said SBA public information officer R. Gary Colton.
"You do not have to wait for an insurance settlement," he said. "Go ahead and apply right now."
The majority of people qualify for the lowest interest rate of 1.68 percent for homes worth up to $500,000, with up to 30 years to repay the loan, Colton said.
"There are a few people in the community who may end up with a higher rate," he said.
"Everybody should apply," Byrnes said.
Police Chief Karin T. DiMichele said the police checkpoints in Good Luck Point and Glen Cove would continue for at least another week.
"I know some of you are frustrated with the checkpoints," she said. "There are some people without alarms and without front doors."
But she got a round of applause instead of criticism.
"Thank you," a Teakwood Drive resident said. "I want to thank you (mayor and council) and the police department. They have been courteous and kind. You should be very proud of your police department."
"We're tired," DiMichele said. "We are starting to get a little irritable. A lot of these officers were hit too and they came to work. We are here for you."
Residents also lauded the township public works department for working lengthy days non-stop to pick up storm debris.