New Jersey Musicians Tell The Real Story Of Hurricane Sandy – Six Months Later
I have to be honest, when I first started this article, I had a whole section leading up to the stories. A section that sounded like every other knuckleheaded journalist trying to paint themselves as a spokesperson of rational summation of a disaster that can never be properly described unless you’ve literally been deep in the middle of it. But as the stories rolled in, I knew that I could never wrap this up in one cute, human interest fluff piece, and I realized that while many communities are getting back on their feet, for many, the aftermath is far from over.
So I scrapped the whole thing and started again with one key element in mind.
That element would be stepping out of the way and going to the stories of the musicians who experienced the brunt of the storm. They are the real witnesses here at the Jersey Shore. This week starts off with the tough story from Ocean County resident and guitarist extraordinaire, Chris Buono:
“We were aware this storm would hit harder than Irene; we had some flooding as a result of Irene, but no real damage or property loss. We were prepared to lose the utilities in the mudroom, which was the lowest elevation in our one-story ranch. I barricaded all outdoor items; put everything on blocks in the garage like the lawn mower, bikes, etc. What we came back to a few days later was beyond comprehension.
When I could even come close to our part of Silverton, I walked through two feet of this concoction called water for a few blocks around parts of houses and boats that floated astray to get to my house. It was nearly nightfall so I couldn’t get the full gist of it, but I knew it was bad. The floors were black, furniture was flipped over and all over the house, and the bathrooms were covered in sewerage spray from the ruptured system. It was hell, not on earth, but in my home. The smell of boat fuel and bay muck in the air was overwhelming, and this was IN MY HOUSE. We were not yet aware of the home heating fuel that was on our block, which contributed to the potency of the stench.
When I returned the next day with my wife, I had no idea what really had happened until I saw it in daylight. We opened the door, and both froze. She broke down and fell to her knees crying. I will never forget that. She immediately ran to our bedroom only to come out completely defeated and sobbing as she learned many of our most personal possessions such as baby books, our wedding album, her journals she kept since she was a teenager, family photos, letters… gone.
Clothes, furniture we worked so hard for, kitchenware, appliances, my kids’ belongings, linens, food, everyday items… trashed. The house was in complete disarray. Waterlogged walls, insulation and carpet; buckled hardwood and tile floors, foundation floor in rubble, master bathroom tub lifted from its base and more. The inside of the garage acted as a mixing bowl and just whipped everything inside like ice cream in a blender.
I couldn’t believe where things ended up compared to where I left them. In the garage was things like Christmas ornaments passed down to us, every letter my wife ever wrote to me from when we were in high school until now, diplomas, stuff—OUR LIFE HISTORY—gone. When a fire rolls through you have nothing but ashes left. It’s gone. A flood leaves you with something relative to what once was, but with no chance of reviving it. It’s torturous.
Our little getaway by the bay took in two to four feet of water depending on which part of the house FEMA measured. Since it was one story, we were totally homeless. Within days, the fire department came, and spray-painted a piece of the house signaling our gas and electric was off. JCP&L came soon after to rip off our electric service meter. Our water meter was destroyed, our house was a shell.
The incredible conundrum that followed was almost worse than the actual flood. I can go on for days about it all. FEMA, ABFEs, flood insurance, adjusters, the evil SBA, the mortgage.
The toughest parts are the ups and downs. One day you think you have it figured out. Then the next day it’s completely different. That trend was the big reason we made the call to leave.
It was one of the only ways we could control our future. Going back became too riddled with uncertainty. That said, there were plenty of problems trying to sell and buy something else. It was the lesser of the several impossible evils we were battling. Christ, no one asked for this and we played by the rules. We paid the insurance; we took care of our store, so to speak. We all just need the government to step aside. Let us rebuild to what was there. What is happening to everyone now makes you wonder how the HELL communities make it through in the past. I’ll tell you how: empathy and hard work.
The generosity we saw in the days that followed was life changing. And that’s coming from a seasoned [re: jaded] musician/artist.
My son John just turned 11, and Will is eight. It’s been hard for them in different ways. Actually now that we’re in our new place, I think the real loss is hitting them. Where we were before being a place we knew was temporary. Now, in a new home, it’s easy to compare to the home they had taken from them.
Your bottom line assessment is correct. We really wanted to go back to a place we really loved. Previous to the last residence, we never lived in any house we owned or rented for more than three years. We were so happy not to be in flux. It made that decision that much harder to make. We decided to move on. It was the best thing for our future. This mess will rage on for years, and we weren’t about to let another day of their childhood slip by.
I went far into modified foundation research. We had a soil boring done, spoke to house lifters, had an architect roll through, I badgered the Toms River Engineering Dept.—all of it. Wood pilings were physically impossible. Helicals are very expensive, and you need a lot—every six to eight feet. We looked into modular, we looked into destroying a portion of the house to make it fit in the backyard so we could drop pilings, and we looked into rumors that V Zone construction may still allow concrete breakaway walls. We left no stone unturned. It just kept coming down to a lack of solid answers and insanely varying estimates and the chance the bottom could fall out from under you years later in some way. Way too risky.
It’s hard to know who is back, who’s not, and what people will do. There are so many variables at play for so many. I can tell you there are houses that have not been touched since the storm and a few houses in our immediate vicinity that have been demoed. So they’re not coming back to what was, if ever.
Whatever gear I had in the house I had out in a small, finished attic area we used for the kids’ toys and such. Whatever else I had around the house—guitars, pedals, amps, et al.—I mindlessly took them up there. For the love of God, I wish I took the personal stuff, too.
Overall, it seems the blue-collar regular Joe is in the worst spot. You make too much to get any real help, which is crap anyway. Don’t even think about mentioning “relief funds” to the real people who own homes. You can’t actually get any of it. It’s a sham. Where’s the money? Where are the solutions? Where’s the funds raised by the 12.12.12 concert? The ‘governor’s wife’s fund?’ We don’t need anymore meals. We need the means to rebuild our lives, to work at getting back to the original reason that we came here in the first place.”
Chris Buono and his family currently reside in another section far from the waters in Ocean County, NJ. Buono is best known for his brilliant guitar work in both the studio and on stages with today’s most innovative artists. Currently Chris is working with Dweezil Zappa and Karsh Kale for upcoming releases. His latest DVD for TrueFire–part of the upcoming “In The Jam” series–features Keith Carlock on drums (Steely Dan/John Mayer) and Steve Jenkins on bass (Vernon Reid). Through 20-plus years of teaching and music journalism in just about every forum a guitarist can, including five years as a professor in the esteemed Guitar Department at Berklee College of Music and currently as a prolific TrueFire artist, Chris Buono has helped propel students from all over the world to new creative heights.
Please visit him over at chrisbuono.com to see the full scope of this talented Shoreworld survivor.
Next week we continue with more fascinating stories from the victims on the Shoreworld scene. If you or any of your bandmates have a story to tell, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.