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Passaic, N.J. Residents Consider Future After Storm

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

Residents of New Jersey continue to struggle in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Nancy Solomon of New Jersey Public Radio spent time in communities along the Passaic River, where many people have been forced out of their flood-damaged homes, and it's not the first time.

NANCY SOLOMON, BYLINE: On the night of the storm, a silent wall of water, eight feet high, flowed up Peabody Avenue in Lyndhurst, an older suburb about 10 miles from New York City. It filled every basement and gurgled into the first floors of these tiny modest homes. Nine days later, Nola Woehrle is standing in the middle of what was her living room.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Rick, one more dining room outlet.

SOLOMON: And a crew of electricians is figuring out which sockets need to be replaced so Woehrle can run fans and dehumidifiers and dry the house out before mold starts to grow. This is the fourth time she's been through this, but what's really upsetting Woehrle is that her insurance company says it can't send an adjuster until November 29th. Meanwhile, Woehrle is staying with a friend.

NOLA WOEHRLE: I've been there for, like, a week, but now I'm kind of in my car, and I'm going to somebody else's house tonight. And I'm just, you know, depending on the kindness of my friends and neighbors. And so I'm not looking forward to doing this for a month.

SOLOMON: Some of her neighbors' homes have been condemned because huge chunks of their foundations washed away. And some have been able to stay on the second floor of their homes. Dana Cardaci is holed up with her husband, three kids aged 18, 16 and 12, and two dogs.

DANA CARDACI: Very difficult. Very difficult.

SOLOMON: This neighborhood never used to flood. Now it's flooded four times since 1999 and twice in the last 14 months with Hurricane Irene and Sandy. There's a FEMA-sponsored program that would allow homeowners to be bought out and then the town could take control of the land and build parks. Some on this block like that idea. Others, like the Cardacis, don't want to leave.

CARDACI: It's going to be hard because I grew up here in this house and it never happened. And then my father-in-law just let us redo the whole house, and he passed away. It was the last thing he was able to do is walk up the stairs and see the house. So it's going to be very difficult.

SOLOMON: Instead, the Cardacis are planning on spending $30,000 to raise the foundation so the basement would be the only part of the house that floods. Most everyone on this block would like to do that, but so far, only two people have been able to afford it. Across the street, Margaret Panzino is frustrated that she can't afford to raise her house. And now, she's facing rebuilding her first floor again.

MARGARET PANZINO: When we moved here, it's - they say 100-year flood. And now it's coming every year, the 100-year flood.

SOLOMON: Did you try to get money from FEMA after Irene?

PANZINO: Yeah. Got a couple of thousand dollar, that's all. What do you do with $2,000, you know? My taxes are $10,000.

(LAUGHTER)

PANZINO: It's an insult, that's what it is.

SOLOMON: These flood zones along the Passaic, Rahway and Raritan Rivers form a patchwork quilt across New Jersey. Decisions about what gets built and where storm runoff goes are made locally. This latest storm, however, bolsters the argument of planning organizations and environmentalists that the state needs a more regional approach to how these decisions get made. For NPR News, I'm Nancy Solomon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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