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Thursday, April 24, 2014

No place to call home

In the 10 weeks since Hurricane Sandy, inspectors have been to all the houses in Oceanside and Island Park to determine whether they are safe for residents to re-enter. But the damage from the storm was so extensive that hundreds of people still cannot return to their homes.

According to the Town of Hempstead, 239 homes in Oceanside, and 105 in Harbor Isle and Barnum Island, were deemed unfit for occupancy. In the Village of Island Park, there were about 80 homes whose damage was estimated to be more than half their assessed value. Island Park Mayor James Ruzicka explained that according to federal guidelines, these homes must be raised, with their living space no lower than 11 feet above sea level.

Before they can get back into their houses,home-

owners must make all necessary repairs to bring their homes back up to code. “On most houses, you have your permits as far as your electric and your plumbing,” Ruzicka said. “We do an inspection to make sure the insulation is done right. Naturally, you have to dry out your house and protect it from mold. There’s no inspection for that; you’re on your own with the mold.”

The Town of Hempstead has waived building permit fees for reconstruction and replacement of damaged homes, and eliminated a requirement that homeowners obtain a variance before raising their homes.

David Lande’s home in Oceanside was so badly damaged that he and his family have not been able to return. “I had 75 inches of water in the basement,” Lande said. “I have a 48-inch-deep by 10-foot-long sinkhole on the outside of my foundation wall. And I have an 8-by-12-foot basement slab missing.” On top of all of that, the home still has no heat or electricity.

The Landes spent six weeks living with relatives in Valley Stream. After that, the family of four moved to a one-bedroom apartment in Mineola. “Everybody’s under stress,” Lande said. “We’re now commuting from Mineola to Oceanside every day to get my son to high school.”

Though their home wasn’t deemed uninhabitable by the town, the Landes still can’t live there. “The town didn’t tell me I couldn’t stay there,” David said, “but why would I stay there with no utilities?”

One of the problems that Ruzicka has noticed in the rebuilding phase is funding. “What I’m finding now in the village is that the money from flood insurance is slow coming in,” he said. “They’re giving a small amount of money to begin with. Most people are at a point where they’ve done their sheetrock, and they have no money to go any further.”

Ruzicka said that many people don’t know when their final insurance checks will be coming and how large they will be, which makes rebuilding extremely difficult, if not impossible. “Everybody I speak to has the same problem,” he said. “They have to get after the insurance company.”

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