Kathy Hamm's home on Aldo Drive in Silverton had two and a half feet of water in it after Hurricane Sandy swept through Toms River in October. She and her husband stayed with friends for a couple of weeks and then lived in the upper level of the house for more than a month. The repairs are now complete and life is getting back to normal.
But, Hamm said when Gov. Chris Christie announced Thursday the state is adopting Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), her home may be subject to new home elevation rules that govern the cost of her flood insurance.
Hamm was one of hundreds who attended FEMA Informational Workshops at Toms River High School East on Saturday, Jan. 26 to find answers to their many questions.
"I am concerned about the new zoning, if I have to have my house lifted," Hamm said. "My house has been fully repaired, but I may have to have it lifted three feet — how does that work?"
Hamm said she was getting on line to speak with FEMA representatives about the Increased Cost of Compliance Program, which offers flood insurance policyholders in high-risk areas up to $30,000 toward the cost of bringing a home or business into compliance with their community's floodplain requirements.
Township Council President George Wittman said the council asked for the workshop because they wanted to give people a one-stop shop to get their questions answered.
"Now we've completed most of the cleanup and people are anxious to start to rebuild," Wittman said. "The nice thing about this is that the people who can help are all in one spot and there are enough folks here, they shouldn't have a long queue."
Wittman said the township has asked FEMA to review the new flood maps, not because they question the elevations, but because some homes may be in the wrong zones.
"If you want to rebuild now, the Governor's order says you're in the zone you're in," he said. "They can wait until the final map in August, but if you're in a hurry, you might build to a higher level than you need to. There's not much you can do about that."
According to Christie, if the new maps say a property is now in a "V" zone where there could be breaking waves, a property owner could face flood insurance premiums of up to $31,000 a year if they do not elevate the home to the required level. Premiums would be much lower if they rebuild to those levels and even lower if they rebuild to two feet higher than that.
Louie Amendola of Totowa, who has owned his home in Silverton Beach for 20 years, attended the session specifically to find out about elevations. The first floor of his house was gutted in the storm.
"We haven't gotten any word from the insurance company - no payouts," he said. "We're sitting ducks at this point."
The workshop began with brief introductions from FEMA and Small Business Administration (SBA) officials. Mark Jamison from SBA explained his agency doesn't only help businesses, but can offer disaster loan assistance to homeowners, up to $200,000 for primary residences and $40,000 for the contents of the home. He urged property owners to apply for the loans no matter what since the deadline to apply is approaching.
"Don't wait for your insurance settlement to apply — once your claim comes through you can pay down the loan," said Jamison. "An SBA loan can be a tool in your toolkit for your long-term recovery."
Following the introductions, attendees walked to the high school's gym where information tables lined the walls, addressing issues including: individual assistance, hazard mitigation grants, Advisory Base Flood Elevation, housing assistance, Flood Insurance, and Township Departments -- Administration, Building Department, Engineering, Planning/Zoning, Public Works, and Tax Assessor.
The longest lines were at the Advisory Base Flood Elevation tables, where FEMA representatives could look up people's addresses on the computer and tell them what zone their homes fell under. Maps were tacked to the wall, as well for people to peruse.
The one thing FEMA officials stressed was how important it is for those impacted by Sandy to register with them for assistance.
According to FEMA, the flood line touched 15,000 homes in Toms River, with more than 10,000 homes actually flooded and 250 knocked off their foundations or collapsed. More than 53,000 people in Ocean County have registered with FEMA for assistance and 7,500 have visited the Disaster Recovery Center in the Bell Crest Plaza on Fisher Boulevard in Toms River, the busiest center in the state.
FEMA has already disbursed $347 million in Individual Assistance Program funds, said Chris McKniff, FEMA spokesman. He said there has been major interest in the Advisory Base Flood Elevation tables.
"We're trying to educate people as to what it means to them in the rebuilding process and the ramifications for flood insurance down the road," he said. "With a workshop like this, it's more personalized. They can sit down and talk about their specific case."
"We're here to help you," said William McDonald, FEMA Region II Deputy Director of Mitigation. "We will be here as long as we need to to get communities back stronger."