Challenges don’t let up for some Rider families

By Katie Zeck

Drew Aromando, executive director of Enrollment Management, stands with his two daughters where the Ortley beach boardwalk once stood. He said his family lost 95 percent of their possessions.

Rider’s executive director of Enrollment Management,.Drew Aromando, lived with his wife and two daughters in Ortley Beach — less than a square mile on the Barnegat Peninsula — until about a month ago.

The devastation of Hurricane Sandy on the central coast of New Jersey in late October has since displaced the family of four.

“We lost about 95 percent of our possessions,” Aromando said in an email. “Our home is still standing but the foundation sunk and we are awaiting word from a structural engineer.”

Aromando and his family were staying at his parents’ house along with his sister, whose family was also affected by the storm. Recently, a childhood friend of Aromando’s offered his summer home to the family as a place to live for six months.

“It was challenge finding a rental since all residents of the barrier island were told not to expect to return home for at least six to eight months,” he said. “Since my sister’s family was also displaced, the 10 of us lived at my parents house for about three weeks.”

According to The New York Times, Ortley was one of the hardest hit beaches along the Jersey Shore. As of Nov. 27, the town was still without power.

During this difficult time, Aromando and his wife, both Rider graduates, have felt the generosity and support provided by the Rider community.

“In the hours shortly before and after the Northeast knew the level of devastation, we began to receive thoughtful and encouraging emails, text messages, phone calls and voicemails from current and former Rider students, faculty and administrators,” he said. “Within days we began to receive letters, clothes, toys, books, gift cards and offers to assist with cleanup.”

Terri Podgorski, academic coordinator for the School of Education is from Brick, N.J. and has been unable to live in her home for over a month, and business graduate student Briana Wallace has lost many neighbors to Hurricane Sandy in her south shore Long Island town of Massapequa.

“The first floor was flooded with four feet of water and everything in it was destroyed,” Podgorski said of her seaside home. “At this stage, I’m currently staying with family but it can get chaotic with six adults and a 2-year-old in one house.”

Her mother, who lives next to her, also lost her home. For them, the difficult part is finding temporary housing.

“A lot of [homes] are offering a one to year lease and not a month-to-month lease,” she said.”

She is planning to rebuild her home with repairs estimated to take only a few months.
Wallace’s town was hit especially hard both by the storm and by those that chose to take advantage of others during a time of devastation.

“There was lots of looting,” she said. “They held up my fire station and stole their uniforms so they could loot other homes. The looters also attacked the power company workers and used their uniforms to knock on doors and rob those that were still home.”

According to Wallace, her parents were evacuated to a hotel and the National Guard refused to let anyone back into their homes for a week. The town as a whole lost power for about 16 days and sustained about $6 billion in damage.

“One of the main roads, Ocean Parkway, isn’t even there anymore, so you literally couldn’t even get to my neighborhood,” she said.

Wallace was also affected by the loss of many of her neighbors.

“ Our town was a very dangerous area,” she said. “One person was wading through water to get to her house, but she got electrocuted. Another neighbor had a tree fell on them.”
Wallace has since been back to her hometown over Thanksgiving break, and despite the cleanup that’s occurred, she said it’s hard to believe it’s the same place.

“My house was very badly flooded and there are boats everywhere,” she said. “FEMA is still there to give out free water and food. It was like a scene out of a movie; it’s crazy.”
Podgorski has been thankful for the help she’s received from Rider and the federal government.

“The experience so far has been an outpouring of people willing to help out,” she said. “Every day, someone [from Rider] was calling or emailing and some have offered her their home to stay in which means a lot. The School of Education gave a monetary donation last week; they all wanted to help somehow. From FEMA to the insurance companies, all those willing to help really means a lot.”

For freshman Cassi Ettman’s friends at Rider, going home for winter break means sleeping in their own beds and catching up with friends from high school. Ettman will not have such an experience. Instead, they will be spending the holidays in a town house her parents were recently forced to purchase.

Long Beach Island natives, Ettman and her family lived two houses from the ocean. The first time they heard about the status of their home was on TV.

“A newscast showed the stairs of our house, it was nerve-wracking,” Ettman said. “It was hard to know what was going on in my neighborhood because my street was breached before the storm even started. We lost a lot of sentimental stuff, but my house was intact.”

The Ettmans haven’t been able to live in their house since the storm and they don’t foresee moving back in anytime soon. Her parents recently purchased a town home on the mainland in Manahawkin.

“It’s something we had to do,” Ettman said. “There’s such a long way to go and  you don’t understand the full extent unless you live there. I went back one night over Thanksgiving. It’s not home anymore. It doesn’t feel like it used to feel.”

“FEMA can’t give a lot of money because most of what we lost was all sentimental stuff. Relatively speaking, we got extremely lucky, but we don’t have any Christmas decorations. Stuff like that is kind of upsetting and gloomy. But there comes a point where you can’t be upset and you just gotta do what you gotta do.”

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Printed in the 12/7/12 edition.

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