Vermonters assist victims of Sandy
By David Taube
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | November 13,2012
MORETOWN — Moretown resident Colleen Thomas, whose 70-year-old mother was displaced by Superstorm Sandy, visited her flood-damaged family home Sunday on the New Jersey coast.
The house was still standing, but her mother, Gerry Halley, of Lavallette, N.J., has been living in a sibling’s home nearby. Halley’s home is located on a barrier island, and more than 3 feet of water flooded the first floor during the storm.
“The island is like a war zone now. The amount of destruction is beyond belief,” Thomas said. When Thomas’ parents were married, they bought the Magee Avenue house on the Jersey coast back in 1972. Thomas said her mom had flood insurance, but the policy won’t cover more than $100,000 in damages.
At the home recently, Thomas and her mother retrieved winter clothing, and Thomas sealed off the upstairs with plastic sheets and duct tape to try to prevent mold from forming there.
In the United States alone, Sandy killed more than 100 people. Floods turned streets into waterways. Millions of homes lost power.
Vermonters have responded to the storm by mounting collection drives and fundraising activities, from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rutland collecting special offerings to students at Thatcher Brook Primary School in Waterbury dropping pennies into a jar in the school secretary’s office.
And from noon to 7 p.m. today in the parking lot of Shaw’s Supermarket in Waitsfield, the Mad River long-term recovery group, which is still helping residents recover from Tropical Storm Irene, will collect warm blankets and winter jackets to give to a National Guard command center on Staten Island. From there the blankets and jackets will be given to an outreach group called the Staten Island Giving Circle.
The West Pawlet Volunteer Fire Department is filling up a trailer of supplies and gifts for Meadowmere Park firefighters, who have a station located near John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. West Pawlet Lt. Tom Best said the station bought one fire truck from the unit, and they’ve developed a friendship since.
The group is looking for cleaning supplies, batteries, hand tools, gift cards to Lowe’s and even toys for Christmas. Tonight, people can drop off supplies from 7 to 10 p.m. Additional drop-off times are listed at www.pawletfire.org/sandy.
The first round of collections occurred Sunday, and Best said heartily there’s still room in the trailer.
Residents of the small coastal community of Lavallette might be unable to move back into their homes for six to eight months because the region’s natural gas system was compromised by Sandy, Thomas said. Her mom has two siblings in the Lavallette area, both of whom have homes there.
Lavallette wasn’t damaged as much as other New Jersey communities, but town residents are allowed to visit their properties by bus only in two-hour time blocks that are awarded by lottery drawing. Visitors are also restricted to bringing two suitcases.
Complicating matters for her mother, Halley has arthritis, making her unable to help with the luggage. But Thomas said one of the saddest sights for her was other elderly couples who had no one else to help them.
Thomas’ aunt and uncle, Kath and Gary Lucciola, were also displaced by Sandy, and thus far they’ve been prohibited from visiting their home.
Despite the damage and uncertainty, Sandy didn’t damage the home of another aunt who goes to Florida for the winter. That has given family members remaining in New Jersey a place to stay.
Meanwhile, many less fortunate residents are still living in emergency shelters.
Due to the stress, one resident already has died after the storm passed from a heart problem. So his wife has to deal with the both loss of her home and a funeral at the same time, Thomas said.
Thomas is currently the associate director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, which told her to take as much time as she needs to help her family. She also is no stranger to caring for family members affected by storms. Here in Vermont, just last year she helped her brother in Northfield after Tropical Storm Irene and the rising Dog River flooded his basement.
Thomas set up a website, www.rebuildlavallette.org, to help keep people in the New Jersey community connected and informed, and she’s looking to coordinate additional volunteer efforts to help. To that end she has a couple dozen people lined up so far.
Like residents’ homes, town officials have not allowed access to the Lavallette Elementary School, which Thomas attended as a youngster. She remembers that she was in the eighth grade when the schoolchildren helped build dunes on the beach. Some people complained about the barriers at the time, saying they couldn’t see the ocean from the boardwalk. Today, she credits the dunes with helping to repel a significant portion of the storm surge from Sandy.
“It’s those dunes that saved our town,” she said.
On Monday, the kindergarten to eighth-grade school, which serves about 160 children, re-opened at a church in nearby Toms River, N.J.