RREM Homeowner Caryn French: “RREM Took Care of Everything. I loved it.”
Keansburg, New Jersey
Visit: Tuesday, July 14, 2015
Like so many others, Caryn French lost everything in Sandy.
She went to work the night Sandy made landfall on October 29, 2012, north of Atlantic City. At the time, she worked a few blocks from her home in Keansburg, Monmouth County. She honestly didn’t think Sandy was going to be the “big one.” Ms. French had been cautioned so many times over the years, most recently with Irene, that she no longer knew which warnings to take seriously.
While at work, she heard the water was rising fast. So around 8:30 p.m. she began the short walk home to see how bad it was. When she started, the water was at her ankles. As she walked it rose to her shins and then her knees and then her waist. Finally when she made it to her house around 2 a.m., the water was at her chest. She was holding on to people’s fences to keep from drifting away. Ms. French looks back now and knows walking to her house was “stupid,” she said, because manholes were without their lids and she could have been sucked down into the drainage system.
When she saw how flooded her house was, “I was shocked. I was afraid for my animals.”
She lost a dog in the storm – a small Yorkie. She still feels very guilty that she wasn’t home to protect her pets and make sure they were safe. “I didn’t care about the house, but my dog…”
Ms. French lost family heirlooms passed to her by her grandmother. “She had these things for years and years and I only had them for a few months and then they were all gone. It took me awhile to get past that.”
She lost all of her household possessions, from furniture to clothing — everything. She was storing her possessions in a downstairs storage area at the time because she had just gotten roof work done and moved things out of her upstairs storage area to accommodate the roof work.
Ms. French also lost the house itself. Approximately 4 feet of water engulfed her home during Sandy. The force of the water shifted the beams in her home- a major reason why the house had to be demolished. Prior to Sandy, the highest water ever rose on her street was to the sidewalk.
After Sandy, she left her house “with only what I was wearing.”
Ms. French was born in the Bronx, NY. Her father moved the family to Keansburg when she was a child because he had heard it was a nice place to live close to the water. She had lived in the Oak Street house 31 years. When her mother moved, Caryn French took over her childhood home.
She never considered leaving her home and community. “Where else was I going to go? This is where I live. I grew up in this house. I wasn’t going to give it up. I wasn’t going to leave. It’s my house. There was no way in hell I was going to leave.”
She applied to the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program on May 24, 2013 — the first day that applications were available. She learned about the program through a neighbor. As soon as she applied, she took it upon herself to tell anyone she knew who was affected by Sandy about the RREM Program and encouraged them to apply. “I know there are others out there who have less than I have.”
After experiencing considerable difficulty dealing with FEMA and her flood insurance company following Sandy, dealing with the RREM Program was a relief for Caryn French. Carmella Manna her housing advisor at Freehold Housing Recovery Center “was wonderful and went beyond her duties to help me and my family out. Words can’t describe how helpful she was! “
Ms. French said her RREM Housing Advisor was very helpful. “Whenever she didn’t know something she said, ‘I’m not sure, but I’ll find out.’ And she always got back to me. She was the best.” Ms. French also received assistance from the Gap Funding Initiative. Her Housing Advisor helped her with the paperwork for the GFI program. After Sandy, she lived with her mother until she was able to move back into her new home on February 20, 2015. “Everything went smoothly,” she said. Her house was elevated six feet.
If it weren’t for the RREM Program, “there would be no way I could have come back home. I never had a problem with RREM,” said Ms. French, who now works as a supervisor in a public high school kitchen.
She admits that it’s a little strange to be in the same location where she grew up with the same view of the neighborhood but to be in a different house. Just as her mother passed the house to her, she intends to pass the home on to her two sons, who are now 20 years and 15 years. Her house held so many memories of her childhood and adolescence and of her own kids growing up. Even though she now lives in a new house on her property, those memories are still there.
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