Hundreds of residents turned out to an Oceanport Town Hall meeting on Thursday, many from other towns, to hear from FEMA, SBA and National Flood Insurance representatives.
Along with Oceanport residents, homeowners from Tinton Falls, Middletown, Long Branch, Red Bank and Little Silver crammed into Maple Place School, their numbers totalling around 300.
Some frustrated, some angry, all looking for answers, they were homeowners mired in a storm recovery that has become as much about navigating paperwork as it is about ripping out sheetrock. They came armed with manila envelopes filled with the receipts, forms, pictures and notes that are the sum of their struggle to rebuild.
Oneida Avenue resident Bart Halpern brought along his tome that includes a spread sheet he built to log all the calls he has made to his insurance company Travelers, to FEMA and the National Flood Insurance. His home, which sits on a partially caved-in foundation, is now supported by jacks and is unlivable.
Travelers told him an engineer won't be out to see him for a couple of months. In the meantime, the insurance company has said he can't touch the foundation (or raise the home) until their engineer has inspected it. "I'm not accepting that," he said, but that has left him with this ping pong process, where he bounces from agency to agency in a vain effort to log his complaint.
On Thursday, he voiced his frustration to Christopher Toney of National Flood Insurance.
"Who is the real point person here?" he asked. Toney, referred him back to his insurance agent. "When the agent doesn't work," Halpern said, "How do you get back to the government regulatory body that backs this?"
Halpern wasn't alone.
"My insurance adjuster hasn't shown, and I called the day after the storm," said another resident.
One resident, who has his policy with Allstate, said his agent said normally claims are paid out in 45-60 days. Now with 800,000 claims pending, his agent told him, he's looking at six months to a year.
"I have to borrow money or use my own money to repair my damage," he said. "That's unconscionable."
Mayor Michael Mahon told the audience that based on the rebuilding experiences of towns in North Jersey that were hit by Irene, it took about eight months for residents to get their money and six more months for the work to get done.
For his part, Toney met with residents one-on-one after the meeting to discuss their specific situations and said he would work directly with the borough to follow up on residents' complaints.
"You and me are going to be new best friends," he said to Office Emergency Management Director Buzz Baldanza.
Stay tuned to Patch for more stories about specific questions addressed at the meeting, how to apply for FEMA assistance, SBA grants (which are open to homeowners) and how to get a $30,000 grant above your flood insurance policy.