TOMS RIVER, N.J. (AP) -- Nearly a year after Superstorm Sandy, victims of the storm told a state panel that insurance woes and bureaucratic red tape are doing just as much damage as the storm.
At a state Senate hearing Monday in Toms River, one of the hardest hit communities at the Jersey shore, many residents complained of insurance companies trying to low-ball them on payouts, and stringent aid rules that are delaying them from rebuilding.
Michael Mazzucca of Stafford Township says his family is split up all along the eastern seaboard while they wait for repairs to be authorized. He says his 15-year-old daughter, staying in North Carolina with a relative, keeps asking when she can go home.
"Our goal is to connect once a week, let alone live in the same home," he said. "It's hard when your 15-year-old daughter keeps asking, 'Dad, when can I come home and live with you?' and you don't have an answer."
Diane Mazzacca, also of Stafford, says she's ready to turn in the keys and walk away from her storm-damaged home. She said she has no choice but to elevate her home, which she can't afford, to a height at which she'll soon no longer be able to climb the stairs to enter.
"God forbid I have another issue, because I'm done," she said. "We are up to our limits. Our money is tied up trying to get back in our home, fighting with insurance, fighting with FEMA. Nobody has done anything to help. You've got to help. Otherwise I'm, just turning over the keys."
New Jersey has estimated the Oct. 29, 2012, storm damaged or destroyed 360,000 homes or businesses. Monday's hearing was the fourth held in recent months on the pace of post-Sandy recovery.
Tom Sheralis of Toms River said the bureaucracy has been impenetrable. He said he was one of the first homeowners approved for a state grant, but still has not gotten any money from it.
"I get bounced from one case manager to another," he said. "Nobody seems to know what they're doing."
Danielle Vaz of Toms River brought her 4 year old autistic son to the hearing to say how severely being displaced by the storm has affected them both
"After a year I'm tired. Instead of being a 36-year-old single mother, Ii feel like I'm 76. It's not getting any easier; it's getting harder by the day," she said. "When I needed my government — the people I voted for — they failed me. "
Vincent Giglio, a doctor from the Ortley Beach section of Toms River, which was devastated by the storm and remains sparsely populated a year later, said getting insurance payouts and government aid has been daunting.
"These programs are intended to help; they're not," he said. "They're just putting more obstacles on you."
He and others complained about the rules for a rebuilding grant that forbids applicants from doing repair work on their homes after applying for the grant because they need to go through an environmental review and be checked to make sure they are not historic structures before repairs can be done.
"To expect people to sit and do nothing is inexcusable," Giglio said.
Steven Gwin of Toms River voiced similar frustrations about applying for aid for his damaged house.
"Our house now sits empty of life, with the pungent smell of mold," he said. "We did everything we were supposed to. We registered with FEMA, we started mold remediation, and threw our lives out on the curb. We had to stop all efforts to save what was left, while the house continues to fall apart and decay, and with each passing day, the cost to fix it increases as well."
Gwin said numerous contractors and experts have advised him his house is too far gone to save. Yet the amount of insurance he's been offered is less than half what it would cost to rebuild it.
"We wait for other people to make decisions for us about our own home and our own lives," he said.
Wayne Parry can be reached at https://twitter.com/WayneParryAC