Eric Vaughn

Eric Vaughn

I had my house on the market 5 days before it flooded. We even had a family come during the torrential downpour at the beginning of Hurricane Ida for a showing. On September 2, I was paying attention to the Raritan because I knew there was a chance it would flood – I’ve lived in Manville for years through other floods. At 5 p.m., the flood gauge I had on my phone projected 27 feet of water in my area, and I knew we’d have to evacuate.

We first went down into the basement because we were getting tornado warnings, then back upstairs because they were calling for flooding. There was no notice from the Manville police to evacuate. During previous floods, they would usually come and evacuate people, knock on doors, but they didn’t this time. There was only the flood siren. Finally, around midnight, I just called the Manville police myself and they told me, ‘if you can get out, leave.’

My (now ex) fiancé was at work, and I was at home by myself with all 3 of my kids, 2 dogs. I had to load them all up into the minivan at midnight. Since the police hadn’t notified anyone else, I went around to my neighbors’ houses and knocked on doors myself to tell them to move their cars to higher ground. As we were driving out, there were cars tipped on their sides, and water pouring in on the streets. 

Once we got out, we stayed at my father-in-law’s house for a few days, but it was hard for him to have all the dogs and kids there, so we got a hotel room in Somerset. When I went home to check on the house, it was destroyed. My fridge was thrown across the kitchen. The mud and the muck were everywhere, and it was like my whole life had been destroyed. We were a whole family living in that hotel for a while. 

Both FEMA and the Red Cross were talking about hotel vouchers being available to people in my situation, and I was on the phone with them, the Salvation Army, and 211 eight hours a day just trying to get as much assistance as I could because I knew I had lost my home. The Red Cross couldn’t help, FEMA vouchers weren’t out yet, and at that point our hotel bill was $5,000. The Red Cross finally made the aid available to me when I wrote in to News 12. 

I had no coverage for contents in my flood policy, which I didn’t know. I lost my whole life and FEMA only gave me $8,000 for $60,000 worth of stuff. Rent was really expensive at the time and I’m on a forbearance with my mortgage, so after looking for a place to rent for a while, I finally got an RV. 

As this was all happening, I became a single dad of two toddlers since the stress of the situation broke off my engagement. A year later, we’re in the RV, parked in the driveway on my property, and looking ahead at spending another winter there with my two boys.

I’ve been in the ear of every politician, every agency. I’m the only one on my block who didn’t rebuild – but I don’t want to rebuild, get new furniture, new appliances, and then cross my fingers and hope that I don’t flood again before I’m able to lift my house. In the beginning, Manville gave two options: either raise our house, or take a Blue Acres buyout. Now, even more recently, they’re saying we either have to take a buyout or fund our recovery ourselves. 

The government has to get their act together so I can actually mitigate my home and rebuild above the floodplain, like all of my neighbors and I should be able to. And they need to do it soon. Right now there’s more hurricanes developing in the Atlantic. We’ve had several natural disasters, once in a lifetime events, happen since Ida.

I’m frustrated. It’s my understanding that people are still recovering 10 years after Sandy, and I don’t want to end up being one of those people. I have flood insurance, we were declared a national disaster area, Manville was one of the hardest hit areas in the state, and Biden and Murphy even came to our town. But yet I’m still homeless.

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