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October 29, 2013

Voices Affected by Superstorm Sandy Mark One Year Anniversary

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Congressman Holt (right) and Guests from New Jersey

One year ago today the nation was anxiously watching the Northeastern Seaboard, waiting out the full destruction of Superstorm Sandy. The storm ravaged towns up and down the coast from Maine to Florida, affecting the millions of Americans there and in between. Severe flooding, strong winds, and seemingly relentless rain pounded the coast killing more than 100 people, causing nearly $65 billion in damage, cutting power for more than 8 million, and destroying more than 300,000 homes and properties.

One year later, much of that destruction remains.                  .

Today, Representative Rush Holt, representing New Jersey’s 12th district, reflected on Superstorm Sandy and the affect it had on his home state and district. He was joined by three New Jersey Superstorm Sandy survivors, and their message was clear: We need to address climate disruption before the next Superstorm Sandy happens.

As Holt spoke about the storm survivors, he remarked, “these people are just representative of millions of people. They are a leading edge of a generation shaped by climate change.”

Each of the three New Jersey natives has a different story to tell but are inextricably connected by Sandy.

Eric Fleming, owner of Cocoa Bakery in Jersey City, was planning on opening his bakery November 17, 2012. When Sandy was about to hit, Fleming and his wife prepared for the storm as best they could, but they had no idea how destructive it would be. Six feet of water flooded their shop, destroying power tools, woodwork, and a nearly $20,000 espresso machine.

“The force of the water had ripped the pipes out of the wall,” Fleming said.

One year later, and their shop has only been open for three weeks. The destruction from the storm was more than just cosmetic damages; it also cost them one entire year of revenue. Unfortunately, Fleming isn’t alone. Many small businesses are still fighting to recover from Sandy.

“A lot of people are still dealing with a lot of damage,” Flemming said.

That includes people like Norma DeNoia. DeNoia is a resident of Seaside Park and owns rental property in the area. When Sandy hit, DeNoia and the other residents on the barrier island had to evacuate. These residents weren’t able to spend the holidays in their homes, and DeNoia lost her renters. It wasn’t until just recently she got one of them back.

“We were ill-prepared for the extent of the damage,” DeNoia said.

Luckily, many people have come to help the residents deal with the destruction. April Kuzas is one of them. Kuzas, a single mother of a son with asthma, had to move out of her Jersey City home for a week following the storm because her son relies on electricity to power his asthma treatment equipment. But Kuzas recognizes that she is lucky to not have lost her home.

“Luckily, we were able to help others,” Kuzas said.

Kuzas has been focusing her efforts on a local housing project that just happens to be located in the same community as Fleming’s bakery. Many of the residents of this housing project weren’t allowed back in their homes for a full month after Sandy, and many still have severe mold damage. This mold is affecting residents, specifically children -- something Kuzas and her son can relate to.

“One woman I’ve gotten close to over the past year, she has three sons,” Kuzas said. “Her sons have been in the hospital five times because of the mold.”

Currently, a bill addressing mold treatment in public housing is being reviewed by the New Jersey Senate. This is just one step in the process of recovering after Sandy and preparing for future weather events.

For years, scientists have been warning that with increased climate disruption comes more frequent and more severe weather. That severe weather is now upon us in the form of hurricanes, floods, droughts, tornadoes, and storms like Sandy.

“This is the new normal,” Holt said. “This will happen again and again.”

While some Members of Congress are skeptical of climate disruption and the consequences of inaction, Holt knows it is important to act now.

“We would do well to invest upfront,” Holt said of clean energy and preparations for future severe weather.

Holt brought these people from his home state to show his peers in Washington that he is not alone in calling for action, and that the sentiment for action on climate disruption spans the country and reaches every community.

“I feel very strongly that something needs to change,” concluded DeNoia.

--Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Intern

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