On battered Jersey shore, Sandy victims struggle with costs of climate change
"If superstorm Sandy was in some way related to global warming, we are feeling the effects of it," he says as he reads through dozens of flood-related e-mails.
His more immediate concern, however, is how to deal with the new zoning codes. "We have to address how to impose the new codes that require homes to be lifted," he adds.
The new codes are needed in a time of changing climate, scientists say.
"You can't attribute Sandy to increased ocean temperatures, but the increased intensity of the storm can be attributed to a warmer ocean," says Kenneth Miller, an earth scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Homeowners who do not elevate their houses "are rolling loaded dice for extreme events."
But imposing the new codes during storm cleanup has proved chaotic. Toms River is home to 95,000 people. Fifteen thousand homes were damaged or destroyed in the storm, nearly half the town's housing stock and a substantial portion of the 72,000 homes and businesses that were hit in New Jersey.
Jeannie and Gabrielle Kanterezhi-Gatto were desperate to move back into their home. The couple and their two children have lived with another family since Sandy soaked their one-story home two blocks from the water's edge. They paid a contractor to begin tearing down moldy walls and rewiring electricity, only to learn that their home would be too low, according to the new maps.
Jeannie was close to tears as she left the community development office with her family.
"The town is saying, 'If you don't elevate your home, there will be higher flood insurance,' " she says. "Now we don't know what to do. We can't afford to raise the home. Where am I supposed to come up with this money?"
Her partner is a mental-health counselor, but the limbo is testing Jeannie's limits. It is difficult to be a guest for more than two months, she says. Also, the storm destroyed the second family car, which makes it hard to get around. She would love to just leave Toms River and start fresh – but she wonders who would buy a moldy home that needs to be hoisted up on pilings.