While the House and Senate continue to wrangle back and forth about how much money they want to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA had boots on the ground in Woodbridge last Friday to make sure township residents hit hard by Hurricane Irene got the help they needed.
Congressman Leonard Lance, who represents the 7th District to which Woodbridge belongs, got the ball rolling by having FEMA reps at the r to help homeowners struggling with the flooding that ravaged parts of the township.
"It's a meeting to give an orientation and information to residents affected by the hurricane and the floods and rains that followed," said FEMA spokesman Rossyeth Rey-Berrios.
"It's very important that every one that was affected follow the instructions to register with FEMA," Rey-Berrios explained. "You have to follow the registration instructions, call the 800 number, provide your name and number and what damages occurred to your house," she said.
"We are encouraging survivors to get registered so we can let them know all the information they need to provide to us. We give them easy and helpful step-by-step instructions," added Rey-Berrios.
The FEMA number for anyone needing help is 800-621-3362. Victims of Hurricane Irene can also visit the FEMA disaster website.
The disaster agency's community relations reps answer particular questions and go into the field, street by street and meet individually with homeowners to document damages and provide assistance, Rey-Berrios explained.
Carlos Costa, a Woodbridge resident who lives on Harrell Avenue, came out to the information session and talked to a FEMA community relations representative. Hurricane Irene did a number on his home.
"I had power outage during the hurricane and that broke the sump pump, and my basement flooded," Costa said. The water in his basement rose so high that it ruined carpeting and furniture in his finished basement, as well as sheetrock.
Costa purchased his homeowner's insurance through Geico, his auto insurance company, but that's where he hit a snag. Insurers who primarily handle auto coverage all use the same underwriter, Boston-based Home Site Insurance. Homeowners, he said, have no idea that their home insurance isn't handled by their auto insurer, but farmed out to Home Site.
Home Site handles homeowner's insurance for Geico, Progressive, and 21st Century, among other automobile insurers. This coverage is purchased online, where many auto policy holders elect to buy their homeowners insurance.
"Home Site said they couldn't help me because I didn't buy seepage insurance," Costa said. "I told them, my house didn't flood and the streets didn't flood either. Now I'm not going to start screaming at the customer service representative because it's the company, not them."
"I was told that they sent a letter that I declined the seepage insurancce and they told me that FEMA might reimburse me - but I don't understand because I'm not paying money to FEMA every month for insurance coverage, I'm paying them," Costa said in frustration.
A tree limb fell on the pool at Camille Manfredi's Woodbridge home. "I'm so impressed that they are actually doing this," said Manfredi about the FEMA information session. "I got three calls from the reverse 911, and now they're doing this, too," said Manfredi.
Pamela Antab and Sarita Nunez are neighbors who live on Watson Avenue, a section of Woodbridge near the river that was hard hit by the hurricane.
"The river flows behind us. The sea surge and tide effects brought the water pouring into the streets. There was 5 feet of water in our backyard," said Nunez. "Our sump pumps were unable to handle the surge, the water came in from the front and right into the first floor of our homes."
Early the morning of the hurricane, Nunez saw water pouring into her house. "I woke everyone up to leave and at 7:20 am, it was at my door," she said.
Nunez's basement had four feet of water in the basement, while Antab's topped out with a seeming record - eight feet of water.
"Because of all the water that came rushing in, our washing machine toppled and knocked over the sump pump," Antab said.
Once the tide was over, the water receded right back into the river, Antab explained.
"We got lucky," said Nunez.
However, the damage had been done. The women said their drywall, insulation, floor, furnace, water heater, electric system, washer, and dryer were all damaged.
"There were about 7 houses in our neighborhood who lost their foundations!" said Nunez. "Because it is river water, the salt in it corrodes any metal it touches. We didn't have any loss of electricity throughout the hurricane, but our houses were flooded."
The women said not dredging the river and building around it is the prime cause of the flooding.
"Not taking care of it doesn't help people who live here," they said.
When the water receded, Mayor John McCormac and some councilmen came out to see the devastation.
"Senator Vitale came out and walked through the weeds with us," Antab said. "It was his office that e-mailed me the information about FEMA being in Woodbridge."