7 Years Later, Some Sandy Victims Still Not Home

7 Years Later, Some Sandy Victims Still Not Home

By:  Karen Wall

Seven years ago, when Nick Honachefsky packed up his Jeep and drove away from his bungalow on Route 35, he thought it was a temporary departure.

Many of the residents of the barrier peninsula that runs from Point Pleasant Beach to Island Beach State Park believed their evacuation ahead of Superstorm Sandy would be a blip. A temporary inconvenience in their lives at the Jersey Shore.

Seven years later, Honachefsky and hundreds of residents still have not be able to go back to their homes. Hundreds of others have moved on completely, taking up residence in other towns, other areas, never going back to the homes that were inundated or lost, for a variety of reasons.

"This day Superstorm Sandy obliterated my previous life as I once knew it," Honachefsky wrote Tuesday on Facebook, in a post accompanied by a photo of the empty lot in Camp Osborn where his home once stood. "The wounds remain open, numbed and stitched, but lived every moment, until I finally get closure of my life back."

Closure, Honachefsky said Tuesday by phone, is what he wants most of all.

"I really can't wait to close this chapter in some shape or form," he said, "whether it's breaking ground for my house or getting to a point where I can sell the property."

His property is a 40-foot-by-40-foot lot in the Route 35 median that is part of the area known as Camp Osborn. It's been an empty lot since Sandy washed away his home with most of his belongings. The process for rebuilding at the site has been an extensive, tangled negotiation involving his homeowners' association, Osborn Sea-Bay Association, Brick Township officials and the homeowners themselves. A preliminary site plan for five houses in the median, including Honachefsky's, was approved in June; the next step is a final site plan approval for the five houses, and then he can take proceed to getting his own home designed.

"I'm hoping that maybe by 2021 I'll be rebuilt," he said. In the meantime, he continues to pay the mortgage and property taxes on the lot while he and his wife, Emily, rent an apartment in Red Bank.

"I want to come back here and live year-round," he said.

So do Robert and Kristine Wachendorf, who are renting a home in Brick and met on Sunday with U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, whose Third District includes Brick and Toms River.

"It breaks my heart when families tell me they are still not in their homes after Superstorm Sandy," Kim said, promising to continue to fight for families who still are not home. Nearly 800 who are part of the RREM program are not home, News 12 New Jersey reported, quoting state figures.

On Monday, Sen. Robert Menendez met with Toms River resident Doug Quinn as Quinn and his family finally moved into their rebuilt home. Menendez has continued to call for Congress to pass comprehensive reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program that include increased homeowner protections and investment in mitigations and resiliency.

"When I visited Doug's storm-wrecked home back in 2014, I made a promise that I wouldn't stop fighting until he and his family could return home," Menendez said. "I believe that helping future storm victims avoid the nightmare Sandy survivors like Doug lived through is a just and worthy cause."

Quinn, a Marine veteran, found the ranch home he shared with his then-teen daughter Megan inundated with 4 feet of water when the storm surge from Sandy sent water through Barnegat Bay and up Kettle Creek.

Menendez said significant reforms are needed to prevent other homeowners from facing the kinds of problems that continue to keep residents like Honachefsky and the Wachendorfs out of their homes.

"We are happy to finally get home after Superstorm Sandy," Doug Quinn said Monday. "We're so grateful to Senator Menendez and (the New Jersey Organizing Project) for standing up for us when almost no one else would. The fact that it took seven years shows just how broken disaster recovery is in America and how badly the National Flood Insurance Program needs to be reformed."

"It's happening already to homeowners across America who've been hit with catastrophic flooding from Texas to Louisiana to the upper Midwest and beyond," Menendez said. "We can and we must do better. No one should have to go through what Doug and others have gone through."

Though the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation Program received an infusion of funding last year when Gov. Phil Murphy announced additional money was being provided, it has remained a slow go for so many. And storm survivors are faced with government clawbacks — having to pay back money they received because of overlaps in the grant system that were unclear to those seeking help — as well as potentially skyrocketing flood insurance premiums.

Those are all issues Honachefsky has barely begun to think about, as he waits for the OK to move forward.

In the meantime, he has turned his attention to trying to help hurricane victims elsewhere, so they know they are not alone. The destruction wreaked by Hurricane Dorian on Abaco in the Bahamas hits particularly close to home because it is so complete, and because he has friends who live on the island.

Honachefsky shares information with those who find themselves grappling with the aftermath of hurricanes elsewhere. He raised funds to help victims of Hurricane Michael. And he's written a book he hopes to find a publisher for that lays out steps for someone who's faced with picking up the pieces of life after a hurricane.

"We all shoulder the burden together," Honachefsky said. Each time there's a hurricane that leaves a swath of destruction elsewhere, it hits home. "You kind of re-live it," he said.

But life moves forward, as evidenced by his marriage last year to the woman he describes as "the most loving, caring, and stunningly beautiful woman I have ever met." He has found a niche pursuing his passion of fishing and writing about fishing, traveling frequently but always returning to his beloved Jersey Shore.

"Life keeps moving on, you carry the pain but keep the hope and faith always and hold onto love tighter than ever before," he wrote Tuesday morning.

Even as he holds on to hope and faith, the memories of the day are still difficult, Honachefsky said by phone. His choice of how to pass the day: fishing.

"Today, I am going fishing in that same beautiful ocean to enjoy this day, this life, and to give thanks to God to carry love, hope and strength forward," he wrote.