Susan O’Kane was convinced she could weather Superstorm Sandy in the comfort of her Weehawken home. But as the storm’s ferocious winds moved in, concerned neighbors persuaded the 80-year-old to leave her street-level home and stay with them in their upstairs apartment. Susan watched from her neighbor’s window as a four-foot surge of water barreled down her street, effortlessly pushing cars out of its path and flooding the neighborhood she has called home for more than 40 years.
“It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was like our street had turned into a raging river,” said Susan. “In all my years here I’ve never had a drop of water in my basement, and all of a sudden it was everywhere.”
The following day, Susan found the storm had poured nearly 11 feet of water into her home, filling the basement and leaving the furniture on the first floor floating in more than two feet of water. The beams that supported the first floor of the home cracked under the weight of the water causing the kitchen and living areas to sink in towards the basement.
With her home unlivable, Susan spent the next several months staying at a local hotel and with friends. It was at this point that Susan met with Red Cross case workers who were working one-on-one with families whose homes were damaged and were staying in hotels. Susan received aid for repairs through the Red Cross Move-In Assistance Program.
The Red Cross Move-In Assistance Program has helped thousands of families with uncovered housing-related expenses relocate from hotels to sustainable housing or make repairs on their Sandy-damaged homes. As of September 23, 2014, the program has provided more than $32 million to more than 5,140 households, including $9.78 million to 1,847 households in New Jersey.
“I don’t know what I would have done without the Red Cross,” Susan said.
Susan was able to return home but, after facing issues and complications with the repairs made to her home, there was still significant work to be done.
“Susan was not only in need of financial assistance, but also required engineers and contractors to help restore her home,” said Kristi Young, long-term recovery case manager, American Red Cross. “I’m glad I was able to get Susan the help she needed by connecting her with additional resources.”
Young presented Susan’s unmet needs to the Hudson County Long-Term Recovery Group, a Red Cross Sandy Recovery Grant recipient, which was able to provide Susan with the assistance she needed to make necessary repairs to her home.
“Everyone was so wonderful, kind and helpful,” Susan recalled. “The Red Cross knew how to handle my situation and I knew I was going to be ok.”
The Red Cross continues to work with nonprofit partners to help people and communities rebuild and recover from the damage and devastation from Superstorm Sandy. As of September 25, 2014 the Red Cross has awarded $91.4 million in grant funding to a range of organizations for programs that provide vital assistance to individuals and families in need after the storm, including long-term recovery groups.
The Red Cross teamed with other charitable funders to support the creation of a network of long-term recovery groups that can remain available to address unmet recovery needs of Sandy-devastated communities. In many instances, these are entirely new organizations composed of local community leaders, case managers, repair/rebuild organizations and partners offering mental health and other services.
Across the Northeast, the Red Cross has committed more than $14 million to 21 long-term recovery groups in communities that experienced the greatest devastation from Sandy. This includes $6.7 million in grant funding to support 13 long-term recovery groups serving New Jersey communities. View the list of Long-Term Recovery Grants awarded for Superstorm Sandy.
“I’m still in awe of the outpouring of support from people all over the world who donated to help people like me recover from Sandy,” said Susan. “I am so grateful for their generosity and I want them to know how big of an impact their donation had on helping me rebuild my home.”
Thanks to the generosity of donors, the Red Cross received $311.5 million in donations for Sandy emergency relief and recovery efforts. The Red Cross has spent or committed to spend $310 million, more than 99 percent of these donations, as of August 31, 2014. Red Cross staff and partner groups that the Red Cross has funded continue to work to ensure the availability of case management, housing rebuild and repair assistance, and financial support for those impacted by Sandy with ongoing needs.
Read the Superstorm Sandy Two-Year Update.
Two years after Superstorm Sandy and with repairs nearing completion, Susan says her house is feeling like home again. Susan appreciates the efforts by the Red Cross, the Hudson County Long-Term Recovery Group and others who helped her return home. Susan also credits the support of the community and one special friend for helping get her through the recovery process. Read how Susan’s friend helped lift her spirits.
Susan O’Kane wants to give back to her community and is registering as a new volunteer with the American Red Cross.