Sue Gomolka and her Squire Street neighbors thought they were doing the right thing.
Hearing that Hurricane Irene was on the way and facing a mandatory 6 p.m. Saturday evacuation, the residents of the small dead end street took their valuables, mementos and memories out of their basements and brought them to the first floor where, they thought, they would remain dry once the area flooded.
But after hours of the raging, a storm surge came in at about 8:30 a.m. Sunday, and the waters of the nearby Matchaponix flooded not only basements, but first floors, and destroyed sheds, porches, businesses and the lives of residents in the area.
“I picked everything up and put it on the first floor…at least I tried,” said Gomolka Wednesday afternoon, still wondering where to start the clean up.
On Wednesday, Gomolka was trying to get her home in some kind of chaotic order. A pump was working full time on the basement, and she and her boyfriend were working on discarding things destroyed by the water. A resident since 1983, Gomolka has been through this before. In 1991 her basement flooded, but it wasn’t this bad and at the time, she wanted to stay. She liked the neighborhood, and her neighbors and the nearby . Now, she just wants to get out.
“I’ve been here for 20 years but this pushed me over the edge,” she said after hoping that her home gets condemned.
Next door, Lori LeBuis and her mother, Nancy Vonspreckelsen, were busy sorting through ruined belongings. Like they’re neighbor, when they left Saturday evening they thought they’re homes were, for the most part, safe.
“What we had in the basement we put on the first floor, thinking it ws safe, but there’s water here,” said LeBuis.
Vonspreckelsen, 75, said she left Saturday at a little before 8 p.m. before returning Monday. At the time, she thought she’d be back Sunday to tend to her three cats. When she tried to return the water was so high and rushing so hard that it was impossible to get back to the house.
“I left the cats thinking I’d be back to get them, but the water was rushing so hard they couldn’t even get a boat through. They would have been pushed to Timbuktu,” she said.
Fortunately for the felines, the cats are all safe, albeit in three separate homes. Unlike her neighbor though, Vonspreckelsen, who is staying with another daughter on Riva Avenue, said she has no plans to leave.
“I have no place to go. No one’s going to buy it,” she said, while listing the items she’d need to make the house liveable again. Just off the top of her head, the list included a new refrigerator, stove, hot water heater and furnace.
Behind her yard is more evidence of Irene’s destruction. When the water surged through the neighborhood, it took with it ground beneath a newly renovated garage. The garage still sits on a concrete slab, but has been pushed back and away from the ground, slab and all.
“I just don’t know where to begin, other than getting everything out of the house,” said Vonspreckelsen.
Emergency Management Coordinator Austin Kosik said Wednesday that the township applied for individual FEMA Assistance last week and that once it's approved, FEMA will visit areas affected by the storm and assist with the application process.
"Once we hear back that we have been approved then the program will be announced," he said. "We'll disseminate information to residents and there will be a DRC (Disaster Recovery Center) opened up and residents can go there for information and apply or they'll be able to apply online or by telephone."
For now though, the neighbors at Squire Street could use some help, which is just what Barbara Keegan was doing. The Squire Street resident's home wasn't damaged as much as the others, but what the hurricane did do was leave behind a thick blanket of sand on her front lawn, which neighbors used to make what they’ve dubbed “Hurricane Beach,” complete with lawn chairs and cold drinks.
“People keep adding to it,” she said, pointing to two small sand castles that appeared when she wasn’t looking. “It’ll be there so we can remember.”
For more information on FEMA resources, click here.