While Hurricane Irene was no more than a weekend indoors for some residents of Secaucus, others continue to deal with the aftermath of flooding and losses. In addition to cleaning up, drying out valuables, and assessing damage, people are getting estimates from flood insurance companies and attempting to get help from agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to pay for damages.
FEMA moves in to Secaucus
Last week FEMA set up a disaster recovery center with a full staff of representatives at the Secaucus library to provide support to Hudson County residents and anyone in the area who had registered for aid after suffering flood damage. The office is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The U.S. Small Business Administration can also provide assistance in the form of disaster recovery loans at low interest rates.
“We definitely lost more than we will be covered for.” – Guy Pascarello
As of last week, 40 people had visited the Secaucus recovery center. But a total of 949 people had registered for FEMA assistance from Hudson County, compared to 2,879 in Essex, 4,685 in Passaic, and 4,877 in Bergen County.
Hughes said FEMA offers two types of grants. One type can help with the “replacement of uninsured essential items in the home such as a water heater, washer and dryer, refrigerator, and…help replace clothing [and] kitchen utensils if inoperable or severely damaged.”
The other primary area of FEMA is for rental assistance.
“We can help them pay the rent if they have to move out for repairs,” said Hughes. “If a homeowner is staying in a hotel we can extend [support] month to month.”
He said FEMA will extend coverage of rent or a mortgage payment for up to 18 months, but that depends on the home owners’ recovery plan. The coverage is not automatic.
“Most people need the help for several months…and usually it doesn’t go that long for most people,” said Hughes.
Finding help for massive losses
“We bounced around between some friends. We are trying to find roots,” said Guy Pascarello, 40, last week. His home on Millridge Road was one of the most severely damaged and deemed unsuitable for living.
“Right now [we’re] not in Secaucus,” he added. “We’re staying in a hotel.” At the time, he was waiting for an estimate on the cost to repair his home from his insurance company and also waiting for a visit from FEMA.
“If the house is a total loss then the hotel is not a realistic option,” said Pascarello.
Pascarello said his homeowners’ insurance doesn’t cover flood damage, but that he was also dealing with sewer backup in addition to the flooding. Since his home is above grade, his flood insurance will cover a certain amount of the house and its contents. But he wasn’t hopeful about how much he would receive.
“Unfortunately, it’s not a lot of money. We definitely lost more than we will be covered for,” said Pascarello.
“We do not cover insured losses,” said Hughes. “If the flood insurance doesn’t cover all of their losses, tell them to come to see us to see what [FEMA] can do to help. We will help them to the maximum extend of the federal law.”
Seven to 10 days of waiting
“FEMA did come out to the house,” said Hector Bernabe, 35, last week. He is the owner of a multi-family unit on 10th Street located in an area heavily flooded during Hurricane Irene. “They took a tour of the house. I filed a case with them. They said it would take between seven to 10 days.”
FEMA had been out to assess his home two weeks ago and had stopped in last week to assess the damages his mother-in-law suffered. She lived on the lowest level of the building.
“The whole basement is gone. All the cabinets [and] all the kitchen appliances are lost,” said Bernabe. He said his flood insurance only covers sheet rock because his home is below grade.
His driveway is on a deep incline that leads into a finished basement with a full kitchen and family room.
Bernabe also experienced raw sewage backup in his home. As of last week, the town had been out to take care of plumbing issues related to the issue.
“Mayor Gonnelli has been great with us. The town has helped us with everything,” said Bernabe.
Bernabe was forced to repeat a recovery process he already went through after a spring 2010 nor’easter, except at the time he didn’t have the possibility of help from FEMA.
He said he spent $20,000 to restore the basement after five feet of water flooded his home. Bernabe paid most of the expense out of pocket because he only received $5,000 from his insurance towards the renovation costs after a $5,000 deductible.
Other pots of money
Rep. Steven Rothman (D-9th Dist.) went out to tour homes damaged by flooding in Secaucus almost a week after Hurricane Irene hit. He told residents that his office could “help [them] fill out applications [and] look into pots of money available.”
“I will continue to work with the president and his administration, our governor and our state, county and local officials to make sure that we respond completely to this disaster and that those affected get the help they need and deserve,” Rothman said. “If I can be of assistance to anyone affected by the flooding, please feel free to contact my Hackensack office at (201) 646-0808.”
Both Pascarello and Bernabe had called Rothman’s office after his visit and had their information taken down and were waiting for further followup.
If you would like to apply for federal assistance, go to: www.DisasterAssistance.gov or www.fema.gov or call: 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). If you do not have access to a computer but still wish to apply online, please visit the Secaucus Library to utilize one of their computers.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at email@example.com.