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Cleanup Post-Sandy Can Seem Like 'Mission Impossible'

Ocean Gate family begins long process of cleaning up, repairing extensive damage

Landlord Jerry D’Alessandro wove his arms in excitement and relief as work trucks pulled up to his home in Ocean Gate.

Volunteering for the Lacey United Methodist Church, I helped four men — whom I never met before — attack what used to be the primary residence of a family of four before Hurricane Sandy created a storm surge that would obliterate homes all along the Jersey Shore.

The stench inside was unbearable. A mask covered my nose and mouth as I still took in the odors of mildew and the Barnegat Bay.

Water levels had rose more than a foot that Monday, and fish from the bay were found about the house. The crawl space also was filled with water.

The family had already begun moving their belongings to the curb — furniture, boxes of Christmas decorations, mirrors, any objects that had been contaminated.

While “recover” is the word most use when moving on post-Sandy, we entered the home to destroy, still one step closer to having the family return to their home, although it may take months.

From taking out carpet to ripping up the floor lining and cleaning out the home, the job was grueling, devoid of any personal attachments or the emotional distress that must come with discovering your home under water and most of your belongings gone.

The family lined the curb with 20 years worth of belongings.

I joined the men in tearing up the flooring with shovels. While they progressed quickly, my area amounted to maybe one square foot. I needed a new job.

My focus was cutting up carpet into pieces that would be fitting to place along the curb, a job I would have been perfectly fine never having to do but under current circumstances, we are called to help those less fortunate.

Holding a blade in my hand for the first time, the job was not easy. The carpet was thick and heavy, as the Barnegat had drenched it. My body aches in places that haven’t ached since I was a college athlete.

“If this isn’t mission impossible, I don’t know what is,” D’Alessandro said, carrying more items to the curb.

Without flood insurance, D’Alessandro was facing at least a $55,000 loss on property damage, he said. But he, the mother of the household Helen Eayre and her son Stephen were warm, undisturbed and resolute.

“I had my breakdown,” Helen Eayre said, describing the situation as “awful.”

The family had evacuated prior to the storm but never expected the results of Sandy to be so severe, she said.

“This is the worse flooding I’ve ever seen,” she said.

When asked how she remains in good spirits under such circumstances, she said, “You just got to.”

The family will be looking for temporary housing while the home gets repaired.

As lighting became meager, our job came to a close and we brought the remaining items to the curb. Helen and Stephen packed their Toyota Echo with what little they were able to save.

The stench had begun to abate with what little we were able to accomplish.

I stared at the quaint home imagining where the Christmas decorations would have gone had Sandy spared the family.

The Earyes drove away from their now empty home, leaving the pile out front in their past.

D’Alessandro shook my hand, which was cold.

“Cold hands mean warm heart,” he said in his thick Italian accent.

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