‘Where’s our help?’ Manville residents frustrated over government’s slow Ida response | MyCentralJersey.com | September 1, 2022
By Alexander Lewis
MANVILLE – Mayor Richard Onderko, like scores of borough residents, is frustrated a year after the remnants of Hurricane Ida devastated the borough.
“What’s taking so long?” the mayor said about the speed of government’s relief efforts a full year after the floods and gas explosions that overwhelmed the vulnerable town by the Raritan and Millstone rivers.
Many residents are still waiting for money from the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program and are making do with help from family, friends and neighbors. But the projected completion of the New Jersey Disaster Recovery Program is not until September 2023.
The Department of Public Affairs Homeowner Assistance and Recovery Program and the Tenant-Based Rental Assistance for low-income renters do not open for applications until 2023. There is also still a 25.5% unmet housing need following the disaster after all funds are allocated.
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“We’re 12 months from the storm and we haven’t received any money for elevations or buyouts,” Onderko said.
“President Biden was here, Governor Murphy was here, they walked the street with me, and they said they were going to help,” the mayor said. “Twelve months later, I’m still waiting for help.”
“What do I tell my residents? We deserve better from our federal government,” the mayor continued.
More than 25 borough residents gathered at the home of storm survivor Yaritza Zapata in the Lost Valley section on Sunday to discuss their experiences in the year after Ida and their frustrations with the “broken relief recovery system.”
The event was organized by the New Jersey Organizing Project, a grassroots organization started by Superstorm Sandy survivors to help ensure full and fair disaster relief efforts for all those affected.
Manville residents are known for their resilience in the face of adversity, but their survivor spirit can only go so far.
“I love living here! It’s a great community,” Onderko said. “(Ida) really brought out the community spirit to help others in need.”
Onderko said many residents walked away from their homes in Manville but “12 months later they shouldn’t be worried about paying their property taxes or mortgages.”
But a year later, many are still waiting for answers and resources.
For those who want to ask questions, the Department of Community Affairs has scheduled an in-person public hearing on Sept. 8 at the Manville High School auditorium on how the rest of the recovery meeting should be spent.
The reality a year later
Zapata is still displaced, staying with family; her home is still in need of repair with no running water.
“As soon as I walk in, all I want to do is cry,” she said.
She bought her home only three months before Ida almost killed her and her husband.
“Our foundation came down five minutes after we got out of our basement, we never expected this to happen,” Zapata said.
Zapata and her husband were rescued by boat hours later.
“Now, we’re still waiting for anything from (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and our flood insurance was not enough to fix our home,” she said. “To finish repairs, I’d have to pay almost $60,000 of my own money.”
“Our property taxes went up $300 more after Ida and we’re not even living there but we’re still getting charged for sewer bills,” she continued.
“It’s frustrating and it makes me sad because a lot of families like myself have not been able to come back home,” Zapata said.
Walter Bijaczyk, who has lived in Manville since 1958, said, “I’ve seen it all and survived. We haven’t seen much help, really.”
“I’ve seen a few people raising their houses and getting money as of two months ago … but lots of people have moved,” he said.
Onderko said, “some residents have elevated their homes on their own, they got tired of waiting.”
Vivian and Walter Blomquist have been renters in Manville for 30 years and said they “didn’t get much help with anything we lost.”
“We lost our washer and dryer, he lost his plumbing tools and fishing supplies and a whole freezer full of meat,” Vivian said.
“We got no help from anybody, even our own renter’s insurance,” Walter added. “We couldn’t get anything.”
Debby Josephs, a first-time homeowner who bought her home in Manville in January 2020, and a single mother of two sons, said the real estate agent told her the home had never flooded.
“Unlike most of my neighbors, I was not aware of the possibility of flooding. … I lost everything in the basement and on the first floor, and two cars,” Josephs said.
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She had to pay out of pocket for her two-week stay in a hotel, and her flood insurance didn’t cover any of the personal belongings she lost.
“To add insult to injury, I practically begged FEMA for some assistance, but to no avail,” Josephs said. “I produced all documentation requested but for some reason, I was not approved and was never told why.”
Jose Mercado, who has lived on Boesel Avenue for three years, was one of the lucky ones; his home didn’t get too much damage.
“Everything is back to normal,” Mercado said. “We used our insurance and (got everything repaired) in March.”
“We didn’t get any help from FEMA,” Mercado added.
His advice for others is “don’t get expensive stuff.”
Manville is no stranger to floods. The borough has survived major floods from tropical storms in the last half century, Doria in 1971, Floyd in 1999 and Irene in 2011.
And the borough has asked the federal government for help in preventing the next flood.
But the Army Corps of Engineers has rebuffed the request for the type of flood-control measures that were constructed around Bound Brook and saved that borough from Ida’s floodwaters.
This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: opens in a new window‘Where’s our help?’ Manville residents frustrated over government’s slow Ida response