Superstorm Sandy Victims Still Suffering on Four-Year Anniversary

Victims still fighting red tape, FEMA to get their homes back

Hurricane Sandy clean-up / AP

Victims of Superstorm Sandy told the Washington Free Beacon on the four-year anniversary of the storm that President Obama broke his promise to give them the full support of the federal government with no "red tape."

Thousands of victims are still not back in their homes and have been mired in red tape from FEMA, its National Flood Insurance Program, contractors, and state and local programs.

"The storm was the easy part. It’s been everything since that’s been impossible to deal with," said Andrew Kane Thornton of Margate, New Jersey.

Thornton, who is married with two small children, has been paying rent and a mortgage on a house that no longer exists.

Like many Sandy victims, Thornton paid his premiums each month on the maximum $250,000 flood insurance policy. After Sandy hit, a falsified engineering report indicated his house shifted not from the storm but from earth movement, which was not covered by his policy. His home had to be demolished.

Thornton hired a lawyer to fight FEMA. He settled a few months ago for $115,000.

"I just couldn’t wait any longer, it’s been four years," Thornton said. Half of his settlement will go to his lawyers. He doesn’t know where he will get the money to rebuild.

Thornton said the federal government has failed him. "I’ve been let down. I paid my policy each month. I got less than half of what my policy was," he said. "It’s been a rough four years."

He said Sandy victims have been forgotten. "It’s been put on the back burner and it’s not on anyone’s radar."

The past four years have been a nightmare for Tricia McAvoy of Brick Township, New Jersey. She’s been living with her father in a 10-by-10 foot room surrounded by boxes.

"It’s a constant battle me and everyone goes through, nonstop," she said. "It’s a nightmare. It’s sad. It’s another Thanksgiving and Christmas that I won’t be home."

"I’ve been dealing with red tape all around with everyone," McAvoy said. "My IRA and savings are gone. I have nothing left. I’m tapped out."

McAvoy’s health has also been affected. She has had two strokes since Sandy, and her doctor believes both were related to stress. She also is suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome.

At least 300 families she knows of in the New Jersey jurisdictions of Brick, Seaside Heights, and Ortley Beach are still not back home.

"There’s so many houses in foreclosure. So many people walked away from their homes, and so many people are done with their retirement funds," McAvoy said.

McAvoy, who was initially offered $140,000 from FEMA on her $250,000 maximum policy, filed a review with the agency in September 2015. Two months ago they offered her an additional $2,000. She refused.

"I feel like I’ve been forgotten. We have been forgotten." McAvoy said.

Bill Keyworth, 76, and his wife, Eleanor, 78, of Lacey Township, New Jersey, have been in a motel since last September. Funding they receive from HUD will run out in March. The couple has moved from hotel to hotel since the storm and even lived in a church shelter for nine months.

"If our home isn’t done by then, I’ll be on the street," Keyworth said. "It seems like nobody cares about us. We don’t know what to do anymore."

Keyworth received a grant from the federal government, which was $100,000 less than he needed to fix his home. Several organizations also offered assistance. His problems include a rogue contractor, who has done little work on Keyworth’s house even though he promised completion by last Christmas.

"Sometimes my wife and I can’t sleep. It’s the contractor and it’s like he doesn’t care," Keyworth said. "We are like homeless. We’re spending our Christmas here."

Sophia Vailakis-DeVirgilio of Queens, New York, is also paying rent and a mortgage because her house has not be rebuilt. She was initially paid $69,000 by FEMA for her $250,000 policy.

"We had to fight for anything above that," Vailakis-DeVirgilio said, adding that she hired an attorney to fight FEMA, a process that took three draining years.

"It took that long to fight for the settlement," Vailakis-DeVirgilio said. "Everyone involved with the post-disaster process are pot-scum, making money off of other’s misery."

"Right now, if I’m paying flood insurance, I should get my payout. I shouldn’t be treated like I’m looking for a handout," Vailakis-DeVirgilio said. Like many, she has drained her savings and retirement funds in efforts to rebuild.

President Obama's promises were "absolutely was full of crap," DeVirgilio said. "The red tape was not cut, it was additional."

Disclosure: Mary Lou Lang-Byrd’s secondary residence in Sea Bright, New Jersey, was damaged due to Sandy. She did not personally file for a review by FEMA but her condominium board did for common elements damage.