A woman is helped from a truck by a firefighter after being evacuated in New… (Andrew Burton / Getty Images )
WEST BEACH HAVEN, N.J. – With trees and wires down after the massive storm, police were blocking traffic into this little town on the coast. So Diane Vanderhorn parked in a long line of cars along the highway and hiked home to see what was left.
She had no idea what she would find. The storm had hammered this part of the New Jersey coast, flooding barrier islands and beach towns, mangling amusement piers, soaking countless homes. But just the same, the vagaries of the winds and tides had spared some. Maybe, she thought, she would be one of the lucky ones.
A dialysis technician on disability because of a shoulder problem, Vanderhorn had rented a little blue bungalow a year ago with her three kids and her boyfriend, Anthony Musto. Many of the homes are modest but the neighborhood is great: on the bay at the foot of the bridge to Long Beach Island.
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The kids walked a little bit ahead. Vanderhorn had brought along her purple paisley rain boots, but she didn't need them. By Tuesday the water had already receded, almost as quickly as it came.
Like thousands of others, Vanderhorn had thought about staying during the storm Monday, only to change her mind as the winds started climbing and the water began to come over the dock just outside the back door. She stayed to help her neighbors, a couple in their 80s, then had to make a return trip for some forgotten medical equipment. “We made it out by the skin of our teeth,” she said.
As she walked toward her house, neighbors came the other way, with dazed expressions and shopping bags full of clothes. “You been back yet?” asked one man.
When she said no, he just shook his head and kept walking.
As the family hiked in, they saw the signs of the storm everywhere.
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Trash cans were rolling in the street. A boat appeared to be parked on the grass near an intersection. A tree leaned over a white picket fence.
“Now I'm getting nervous,” she said.
“Mom, look,” said her daughter, Rebecca. A white mini-refrigerator had ended up against the house. Soaked planks were strewn across the driveway.
“Holy shiitake mushrooms,” Vanderhorn moaned.
Inside the house, the rug squished under her feet. “Oh, my God. Oh, my God,” she said. It took a minute to sink in: the soaked furniture, the floor strewn with papers. The water line showed on a glass partition, about 3 feet high.
Finally, she broke down and sobbed as her eldest son held her. “It's all right, it's all right,” he said.
Every room was trashed. The water had even found their legal documents in a hutch. “They'll dry,” Musto said. “As long as they're still there.”
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After a while, Musto remembered to check the car, a black Nissan Maxima. “It's dead. It's gone. It's history,” he said. The water had reached nearly to the headrest.
Their neighbor, Bob Carr, leaned over a fence. His house was pretty much undamaged. He told her that another of their neighbors had returned to find his house gone.
“I guess I'm lucky then,” she said.
In the kitchen, Vanderhorn lit a cigarette and tried to think. She has no flood insurance, and says her landlord doesn't either.
“I've got three kids,” she said. “Where are we going to go? There's no money.
“This was my house,” she said. “This was my babies' house.”
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