For Mahwah residents whose homes were severely flooded by Hurricane Irene at the end of August, the real rebuilding is just beginning.
“My house looks fine from the outside. But, when you walk in, everything is in disarray,” Claire Miller said of her home on Reich Ave. Two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen were destroyed by flooding, she said. “It’s bizarre, because from the outside now, you’d never know."
Miller and her neighbors say the rebuilding process cannot happen as quickly as they had hoped it might.
“We have still not heard back from our insurance company about how much we are going to get,” Debby Nelson, Miller’s Reich Ave. neighbor, said. “And FEMA and everything else depend on how much insurance money you get, so we are stuck waiting.”
The pair say their families were also advised not to start major construction projects until they hear back from their insurance companies. The families say they are also still waiting for township permits to be approved before they begin work.
“It’s funny because when you lose half your house, the other half essentially becomes storage space. Everything you have left gets packed into the usable rooms, and everyone has to sort of live on top of one another,” Miller said. Both families are still storing some items in their yards, which becomes more and more impractical as winter weather comes this way.
Miller said her daughter, a student at Ramapo College, had to move out of the house into an apartment in Suffern after the flood destroyed her bedroom, and that the aftereffects of the storm have been weighing on her son, an MHS student.
“It’s hard, you know, to keep up with your studies and your homework when everything is so out of order at home. We have tried to create some sort of stability for him at home, but it’s still hard on him,” she said.
The Nelson’s have been trying to replace or salvage what they lost during Irene, which Alan Nelson estimates to be somewhere near $60,000 worth of tools, supplies, a heating and air conditioning unit, electrical panel, and other items.
“It’s also the things that you can’t get back. My wedding album, which I thought I grabbed from the basement, that’s gone. One of my kid’s baby books. Insurance won’t help with that stuff,” Debby Nelson said.
The Nelson’s were displaced from their home for six weeks. The Millers moved back in more quickly.
“It’s like, do you live out of a suitcase in a hotel, or do you live out of a suitcase in your own home?,” Claire explained.
Both families credit the Mahwah Elves, a volunteer group started by resident and stay-at-home mom Suzy Godding soon after the hurricane, with helping them pick up the pieces enough to be able to return home.
“The Elves were just amazing. We didn’t know any of them, they just went door to door asking what you needed, and then they helped,” Keith Miller said.
“They asked you to sign up for what you needed, so I said I needed my lawn mowed, because our mower got ruined in the flood” Debby Nelson said. “The next day, I come home and there’s someone mowing my lawn. And you feel funny watching someone else do it for you, but it was like I couldn’t thank them enough.”
Since helping clean up the homes of any resident who asked for help, the Elves have not stopped their mission of helping Mahwah residents recover from Hurricane Irene.
Friday night, a dinner and dance fundraiser raised $10,300 that the Elves used to buy gift cards they distributed to affected residents at a Tricky Tray Saturday.
“We gave away over $15,000 in gift cards from all of the funds we’ve raised. Each family got $180 in cards,” Godding said. The cards were each part of a “Welcome Home Gift Basket,” the Elves put together for each family.
Donated furniture, toys, and other household necessities packed the inside and outside of the Ramapo Reformed Church Saturday, as residents were able to peruse the donations and take replacements for what they lost in the storm. Everything from couches and coffee tables to bureaus and dressers were available to residents who needed them.
“I think it was a great success,” Godding said of the weekend Tricky Tray. “Mostly everything went and I think we got people some things that they really needed." Godding said the residents who donated furniture and all of the local businesses who donated gift cards or other support are to be thanked for their “wonderful” contributions.
Moving forward, as families like the Millers and the Nelsons begin to rebuild their homes, Godding says the Elves will still be there. “We are still Elves, so if a family calls us and needs something, we’ll be there,” she said.
Godding can likely expect some more help moving forward.
“I actually want to volunteer to be an elf,” Debby Nelson said. “They are doing so much for us, I want to help.”
Claire Miller agreed. “I can’t start work on my house right now anyway, and I’m sure there are people who are further along and need the Elves help. I want to be a part of that.”