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MANTOLOKING, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – Residents returned Friday to a New Jersey shore community that was nearly destroyed by Superstorm Sandy.
Mantoloking is the last shore community to allow residents back following the Oct. 29 storm.
“We want to kiss the ground, thank the Lord,” said resident Hank Rzemieniewski.
“Going to sleep in our bed tonight,” said Debbie Rzemieniewski. ”Can’t wait.”
But officials called it a bittersweet day. The storm damage was so devastating that many homes in Mantoloking are unlivable.
“After a long but understandable wait, many of our residents will be able to return to their homes,” Mayor George Nebel said. “Unfortunately, many other residents no longer have a home to go home to.”
Hundreds of homes were damaged during Sandy and the ocean cut a channel through to Barnegat Bay, dividing the town in two. That channel has since been filled in.
Nebel said all of Mantoloking’s 521 homes suffered some sort of damage in the storm. He said about 60 of those were destroyed and hundreds more will likely need to be demolished. Officials estimate fewer than 20 are in livable condition.
“It’s tough to come through town and see the destruction all over the place,” said resident Doug Popaca. ”It’s very disheartening.”
Doug and Joyce Popaca couldn’t get back fast enough.
“We’ve been working for three months at least to get back,” Doug Popaca told CBS 2′s Kathryn Brown.
“We have tons of laundry to do which I’m happy to be able to do in my own home,” Joyce Popaca added.
Officials said it took nearly four months to restore water, power, sewer and gas lines that were all destroyed in the storm.
While a long-awaited homecoming for some, others said Friday’s return is a reminder that life will never be the same.
“I have no life except for trying to pull my house together,” said homeowner Karen Ladue.
“Literally everything from inside the house is out in the bay,” said resident Bill Bigelow-Finch.
“I try not to come through from the north end of town. It makes you sick,” Doug Popaca said.
As residents take steps to rebuild, they are being hit with another hurdle. An automatic federal budget cut, known as sequester, is set to kick in on March 1. Unless congress approves a budget, that could mean a 5 percent decrease in Sandy assistance.
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