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Cape residents seek answers on aid in wake of Jonas

Cape residents seek answers on aid in wake of Jonas

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WILDWOOD — Retirees Dorothy and Joseph Kolb enjoyed living full time in their summer home for three months before they were flooded by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Now, after record flooding last month caused by Winter Storm Jonas, they are back in the same fix, staring at bare floors, missing wallboard and other damage throughout their westside home.

“It’s minor compared to what happened to other people,” Dorothy Kolb said. “But we’re older now. We’re not ready to just rip the house down and rebuild.”

The Kolbs were among dozens of flood victims who attended this week’s state-sponsored storm-recovery workshops in Sea Isle City and Wildwood. Agencies as diverse as the departments of Environmental Protection and Banking and Insurance provided advice about filing claims, hiring contractors and getting help from nonprofits such as the American Red Cross.

Despite the extensive damage throughout her home, Dorothy Kolb still decorated her picture window for Valentine’s Day. Life goes on, she said.

Cape May County estimates the storm caused at least $67 million in damage. Atlantic County identified at least $2.5 million in damage, not counting the badly eroded Atlantic City beaches.

The state Office of Emergency Management said the Federal Emergency Management Agency would complete its public damage assessment this week and begin compiling its findings for submission to the state later this month.

“I think the whole thing is based on a simple formula: A federal disaster declaration is good. No federal disaster declaration is bad,” Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. said.

West Wildwood Mayor Christopher Fox, North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello and Troiano met with Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno this week to talk about the need for federal aid.

“Without that designation, the hardships homeowners are experiencing will just be doubled with city costs,” Troiano said.

Wildwood has already collected 100 tons of storm debris for disposal at taxpayer expense, he said. Towns across the region also incurred overtime expenses.

For property owners in Sea Isle City, the Cape May County municipality most impacted by Jonas with an estimated $24 million in damage, the lesson they have learned from the January nor’easter is that they must raise their homes.

“After Sandy, we didn’t take advantage of it,” said James Tracey, 73, of Linwood, who owns a home in the 100 block of 43rd Street. “The last time we had water was in ’62. We didn’t think it was going to happen again.”

Tracey said the half-foot of water from Jonas was less than the nearly 2 feet he saw from Sandy in October 2012, but the flooding still required him to tear out lower walls and dry out damage.

“After Sandy, I figured this isn’t going to happen every few years,” said Anthony Kutschera, 46. “But now it looks like the new norm, I’m going to lift my houses this time.”

Kutschera’s early 1900s home in the 100 block of 45th Street, which had 8 inches of water in it from Sandy, was spared by Jonas. But the adjacent circa-1925 property he owns, which took on 8 inches of water in Jonas vs. 30 inches in Sandy, wasn’t.

Sandwiched by the ocean two blocks away and the bay one block away, Kutschera said he sees no way out but up.

“What other option do we have?” he asked.

Hoping to find out, he visited a storm assistance workshop held Thursday in the town’s library.

“Since we didn’t do it in Sandy, are we still eligible for funding?” he asked. “Is money still available?”

That question currently has no answer, said Guadagno, who stopped by the daylong workshop in its last hour.

“Sandy funding is no longer available,” she said. “That’s done. We won’t know if any funding is available for Jonas until after the numbers are in. It’s too early to tell.”

Lisa, 56, and Robert Vallaster, 57, of Winslow Township, whose 80-year-old house in the 4300 block of Central Avenue was flooded with 18 inches of water from Jonas, want to raise their home 8 feet. They, too, are seeking information on funding possibilities to address the repetitive loss of property, which was damaged by Sandy before they purchased it.

Ron Montgomery, 70, of the Strathmere section of Upper Township, said he is in the process of having his home on Whittier Avenue raised by 3 feet. Although 2.5 feet of water from Sandy inundated the first floor of the three-story structure, he said he waited too long to apply for financial assistance and is about $50,000 short of the estimated cost of completing the job.

With Jonas bringing almost a foot of water into the home, he said he will continue to seek aid to lift the house.

He has four good reasons to. His daughter, Hilary Montgomery, 40, and her dog Kona, cat Willy and parrot Dolly all have been displaced since the first tide of the storm and have been staying with friends in Cumberland County.

“It doesn’t matter whether you get a little or a lot of water,” Ron Montgomery said. “We still have to replace all the drywall, the insulation, the appliances, the flooring and the furniture.”

Contact: 609-463-6712

Twitter @ACPressMiller

Contact: 609-463-6719

Twitter @ACPress_Nevitt

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