Aerial view of flooding on the New Jersey shore after Hurricane Sandy. Photo: Tim Larsen / New Jersey Governor's Office

HACKENSACK, New Jersey, 10 March 2013 (Associated Press) – Thousands of Jersey Shore owners whose homes were flooded by Superstorm Sandy are now facing the most crucial decision yet: raise, sell, or raze.

Is it cheaper to elevate or demolish? How long a wait will there be for insurance and grant money? Can the emotional attachment to homes — some of which have played host to generations of family members — be broken? Add to that a need to learn what a “base flood elevation level” is, become knowledgeable about local building codes, and then find the cash to make it all happen.

Making the call is proving to be stressful at the least, and, in some cases, paralyzing for owners.

“It’s a very, very difficult time to make those kinds of decisions because the trauma has been so fresh and recent,” said Adriana Fitzsimmons, consultation liaison director of psychiatry at Jersey Shore Medical Center in Neptune Township. “That kind of trauma, life-threatening experience and all that loss puts them in situations where they’re more likely to be emotionally unstable.”

After coping with the initial shock of the damage to their properties, owners have experienced peaks and valleys of anxiety as they’ve tackled debris removal and cleanup in the months after the October superstorm, said Eric Rice, a disaster response crisis counselor who is the Monmouth County team leader for the Mental Health Association in New Jersey’s Hope and Healing Project.

With so many choices, homeowners are overwhelmed and having difficulty moving forward.

“Right now, they’re just burned out,” Rice said. “People are just emotionally and physically tired and they’re so worn down that they can’t think clearly anymore.”

What has hindered decisions is the governor’s recent adoption of FEMA advisory base flood elevation maps that will require many residents to build higher. If owners don’t comply, they face spikes in flood insurance premiums.

While FEMA plans to issue finalized maps in the coming years, some homeowners are worried that elevation levels will change and their efforts will be for naught. In addition, towns that have adopted flood elevations that exceed FEMA’s recommendations — to be on the safe side — and people are further confused. […]

Gina McDonnell, an Oakland resident whose Seaside Heights summer home was flooded throughout, remains in a holding pattern while she learns whether she will receive added benefits through the National Flood Insurance Program. She and her husband, Dan, could receive up to $30,000 of Increased Cost of Compliance funds to elevate, relocate or demolish their ranch-style home, which is intended to reduce future storm risk.

The couple qualifies for the funds because their structure sustained damages of more than 50 percent of the value of their home. But if they accept the funds, they must commit to lifting the house within four years.

They are also applying for funds through the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. Towns apply for the funds by listing potential projects, such as building a seawall or raising homes in a particular neighborhood, and the state distributes the funds, said Chris McKniff, a FEMA spokesman.

And the McDonnells are waiting for their flood insurance reimbursement check to clear before moving forward.

FEMA’s flood maps show the McDonnells’ home is in a zone requiring their house to be 8 feet above the mean high tide line, according to Seaside Heights construction officials.

An engineer must determine the height of their structure and how much it would have to be lifted, she said.

McDonnell has compared the $30,000 cost of raising her house to the $12,000 annual flood insurance tab she could eventually face if she does nothing.

She still needs to figure out what types of repairs the grants would cover, if approved. For example, she wonders whether the funds to elevate the house would include replacement of her front porch.

“If you don’t get compliant and are way below, then you’re at risk if you ever want to sell,” she said. “Who’s going to want to buy a house where the flood insurance is going to be so much more?” [more]

Sandy victims agonizing over fate of Jersey Shore homes

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