On Wednesday, a day after President Joe Biden toured the destruction, the Federal Emergency Management Agency was assisting residents who lost everything.
CBS2’s Meg Baker was on Alice Street, which dead ends to the Raritan River. She saw a mini van that was completely submerged and spoke to the owner about his horrifying experience trying to save his relatives and pets.
“We lost everything. Our cars are under water. What we are wearing right now is what we have. We lost our animals, which drowned, and you just can’t imagine the loss,” Kurt Jelenek said.
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Jelenek said the flood water went from his ankles to his shoulders in a matter of minutes.
“Have you ever been hit by a wave in the ocean? It’s your worst nightmare when you see a wall of grey at night and you realize you’re going to get hit and you grab on to what you can,” Jelenek said.
Baker met Jelenek at the Manville Library, where FEMA representatives are assisting locals. He said the website wasn’t working and he didn’t get a clear answer on what assistance will be given.
“There going to try to help with the after-expenses, what insurance doesn’t pay, and that’s where the real problem is. Insurance won’t pay anything,” Jelenek said. “Here in Manville, most people are listed not in a flood zone, but somebody forgot to tell the water.”
Somerset County Commissioner Sara Sooy asked the Jeleneks what they need now, and like most, it’s cleaning supplies. Donations are welcome.
“Buckets, mops, you know, brooms, paper towels,” Sooy said.
As CBS2’s Jessica Layton reports, many homeowners say they’re still confused and frustrated.
“We don’t even know where to start. We get on the phone with FEMA, 120 minute wait time,” Manville resident Robert Moskal said.
The pickup of moldy items ruined from the storm has been slow, and they don’t feel like anyone is really stepping up to get them back on their feet.
“The neighbors are there for each other more right now than the government is,” Manville resident Elizabeth Lescano said.
Office of Emergency Management Director John Bentz said the borough is monitoring the weather as crews work overtime to clean up.
“They are making sure as they are cleaning up the debris that the storm drains are clean,” Bentz said. “And we have asked people when they are putting debris out to try as much as they can to keep it between the curb and the sidewalk and not, you know, block the streets, block the storm drains, fire hydrants, any of the utilities.”
Contractors have been working for three days to clean out a basement after a wall completely collapsed. Edward Toth of Toth Construction has received dozens of calls for help.
“We’ve got jobs for days, so if you want work, ha, it’s here,” Toth said.
In the aftermath of Ida, neighbors are helping neighbors get by.
“Just trying to help out a little bit, every which way I can,” said Norm Harris of Hillsborough, who was dropping off water.
At Manville Pizza, which was not damaged during the storm, a customer had an idea they called “Pie It Forward.” It’s a way to pay it forward with pizzas to feed flood victims. Free pies are going to hundreds of families.
“Each one of these post-it notes represents a pizza that is paid in full that a flood victim can come, take off, give to me and have a hot fresh pizza, no questions asked, ready to go. It’s just something that I thought was brilliant. We’ve been getting calls all over the United States, California, Ohio, everywhere in between,” said Anthony Daniello, owner of Manville Pizza. “I’ve just seen some awesome, awesome humanity happen and come forth. People just helping each other, neighbors helping neighbors, and it really is a great town, and we will rebuild again.”
Ask anyone trying to recover, they’ll tell you compassion means everything right now.
“It means a lot. It’s just a very gracious offer, and God bless them for taking the time to do this for a lot of the neighbors. Because my neighbors don’t have stoves, they have no gas, and just to know they can come out is just very nice,” said store owner Diane Abate.
Every little bit of generosity helps with a long road of clean-up ahead.
The county commissioner also warned of looters and others pretending to be contractors, asking for money up front for work and then never returning. She said any time there is a crisis there are people who try to take advantage, so be aware.
FEMA officials also toured hard-hit areas of Bergen and Passaic counties Wednesday, the same day we learned another body was pulled from the Passaic River.
CBS2’s Meg Baker and Jessica Layton contributed to this report.