A new pet scurrying around. A Christmas tree to hang your ornaments on. An oven to whip up a batch of cookies. Your own routine, your own home.
Superstorm Sandy disrupted so many of these small moments through the big impact of its destruction. So many families faced a loss of these moments as they moved in with family, rented elsewhere and otherwise waited for the day they’d be back home.
For the Phander family of Silverton, the day they came back home was the week of Christmas. It meant so many things they’ve been missing about the holidays – hosting friends and family, decorating, sharing in traditions – could now finally be enjoyed after enduring the hardship and heartbreak and the wait.
“For us, missing Thanksgiving, having it at home was really the thing,” said Nancy Phander. “We put a big table out, have everybody, welcome anybody, have it like an open house. You miss that.”
Nancy and husband John along with their children have been living with a relative in South Toms River while they waded through delays with previous contractors, paperwork through aid programs and the wait to get approvals through the township.
“There’s lots you don’t think of, how it impacts you, it impacts everything,” Nancy said. “It just feels so good to be home. Just being back home, it changes everything.”
It was 19 months since their last sleep in their own home and the process of elevating it four feet higher began. There’s life at a higher elevation, which might change the view out the windows, but the physical process also meant some things don’t quite fit as they did. For example, none of the original doors fit the door frames since the lift.
Besides the comfort of celebrating the Christmas and New Year holidays at home, you get to return to neighborhood comforts such as having the school bus stop nearby instead of being bused from another town, and seeing familiar faces among friendly neighbors.
“Having neighbors again, having your friends back – they are happy for you too, you know? They came over and said, ‘Oh you are back, that is great!’” said Nancy.
Much of the Silverton neighborhood the Phanders live in saw flooding of three feet or more during the storm surge of Superstorm Sandy October 2012, and many residents are still in the process of rebuilding.
The journey of rebuilding their two-story home went from debris cleanup and demolition of damaged parts, to preparations for home raising, and then the lift to finding a second contractor and the details of reconnecting all utilities. “There were so many delays, rescheduling, failed inspection, following up with contractors,” said Nancy. Originally, the process was supposed to take about six months but ended up taking triple that, she said.
“All of the appointments, all of the work of paperwork, meeting the workers as they do their thing, making sure everything is okay – it’s a lot of work,” said Nancy. “It makes it hard to do anything else, explaining to your boss you have to go and meet an electrician, and all that stuff.”
Some final touches still need to be made to say it’s all finished, she said. Essentially, there’s the work of unpacking everything and sizing up the punch list of things to do.
“Everything was piled up from floor to ceiling here,” she said. The living room, transformed into temporary storage, meant the couch had to go to make room for more of the total house contents. “Now my room is a disaster having moved everything in there to get the kids’ rooms done.”
“Our couch is two kitchen chairs,” laughed John Phander. “It’ll do until we make more sense of where it all goes.”
In the bustle of getting ready for work one morning while being interviewed for this story, the Phander family called out to each other, wondering where one thing or another might be found that they needed, but was packed up somewhere: a spoon to stir coffee, a scoop to bring to the ice cream party during class, a photo to show the progress since the storm.
“It’s chaos but it’s home and it’s exciting to be here,” John said. “I’m making cookies later. First time we’ll be using the oven. I can’t wait.”