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New Jersey Community Holds Together Through Storm And Recovery

Linda and Bill Tanchak are a lively New Jersey couple who have been together for more than 45 years. They married in 1968 and lived in Marlboro Township in Monmouth County for a majority of that time. In 2011, they packed up their house and moved into their new apartment on the shore in Asbury Park. Two years later, in late October, they would add another very important event to their timeline: surviving Hurricane Sandy.

THE STORM

What forecasters called “the perfect storm” made landfall in New Jersey on Oct. 29, 2012, unleashing winds of 80 mph and a vicious storm surge into communities along the shore.

The Tanchaks, like dozens of their neighbors, chose to stay in their beachfront apartment building on Ocean Avenue in Asbury Park. Asbury Tower—an affordable housing community for low-income seniors—is sandwiched between Deal Lake and the Atlantic Ocean, which left it significantly vulnerable to Sandy’s wrath.

“We had Irene last year that definitely caused us some issues, but when they say it’s the storm of the century you definitely heed the warnings,” said Nancy Hamsik, executive director at Asbury Tower. “It was definitely an experience that I will never forget and the residents will never forget in our lifetimes.”

Sandy’s strong winds knocked out power to the building, leaving its residents and staff in the dark with decreasing temperatures for almost a week. The building’s parking lot, elevator shafts and entire bottom floor were inundated with water, causing major damage to the tower’s activities lounge, in-house beauty salon and mini convenience store.

“We knew the storm was on the way and we did everything we could do to prepare – properly notify the residents, make sure they were ready, make sure they had their emergency kits on hand,” said Hamsik.

THE EVACUATION

Directly after power was restored, the remaining residents were forced out of the building due to an electrical fire in the basement. They were evacuated as a group to a shelter in Wall Township, and then later moved to a racetrack at Monmouth Park in Oceanport where massive tents were initially set up by emergency management officials to house utility workers from out of town who came to help with power restoration.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Monmouth County Office of Emergency Management connected with this group at the shelter and assisted them with the FEMA registration process.

“When they got to Monmouth Park, they insisted on staying together in the same section, so they can keep an eye on each other,” said Carolyn Robertshaw, activities coordinator at Asbury Tower. “They helped each other out and if there was someone who couldn’t do something, others stepped in to help.”

THE INNOVATIVE, TEMPORARY SOLUTION

Just six miles away from Asbury Park in Neptune Township, a brand new Hampton Inn was left nearly unharmed by the storm. The local government told county emergency management officials about the empty hotel, which was four weeks away from opening before Sandy plowed through the Garden State.

“Our goal was to get this hotel up and running as quickly as possible and to establish it as a transitional shelter,” said Mike Oppegaard, county director for the Office of Emergency Management in Monmouth. “We wanted to make sure priority was given to survivors of Hurricane Sandy, especially those in the Monmouth Park shelter.”

THE WHOLE COMMUNITY EFFORT

In less than two weeks, the hotel was cleaned, furnished and powered up, and on Nov. 14, 2012, its doors opened to survivors of Hurricane Sandy. Thirty-two senior residents from Asbury Tower, including the group sheltering at Monmouth Park, were moved into the hotel as part of FEMA’s Transitional Sheltering Assistance program.

“This just proves that a cooperative effort made by all parts can really produce great outcomes,” said Oppegaard. “You just can’t script it any better than this story.”

The seniors sheltered together in the Hampton Inn under the transitional shelter program for five weeks while the staff and management at Asbury Tower worked diligently to get the complex back to normal.

During this period the hotel partnered with several volunteer agencies and faith- and community-based organizations to address the immediate needs of the survivors. From donated hot dinners to free rides to the doctor’s office to Thanksgiving church services, hotel staff worked alongside volunteers to provide these services and make the survivors feel as comfortable as possible.

THE HOMECOMING

Less than five weeks from the day Hurricane Sandy struck, Asbury Tower residents received the phone call they were waiting for: It’s safe to come home. On Nov. 28, the apartment complex reopened its doors.

“We were very happy to come back. Everybody was greeting everyone when they walked in,” said Bill Tanchak. “Now, there is a sense of camaraderie and we realize we’re a family.”

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About Edited by Susan Bainbridge

At age 6, Susan was destined to be a journalist and photographer.  In 1980, Susan founded Bainbridge News and The Bainbridge Chronicle Newspaper. Bainbridge News specializes in Military and National Politics, including Military Funerals and Burials and Political Funerals and Burials.  Susan has covered the White House, the Pentagon and Capitol Hill. She has covered every president from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. Recognized for her versatility, Susan has also covered finance, crime, civil rights events, marches, sports, musical events and more. In 1990, she established Bainbridge Photography, an On-Location photography company. In addition to military and political events, including Military and Political funerals and burials, Bainbridge Photography expanded into covering ALL funerals and burials, receptions, weddings, real estate, inventory, insurance, portrait, head shot, pets, fire and Hazmat.  Miss Bainbridge believes in going the extra mile. "My Clients always come first." In 1980, Susan began her career in Washington, D.C., working for WMZQ Radio as a reporter and guest hostess from 1980 to 1985. Intrigued by radio, Susan wanted to write, freelancing for radio, television and print newspapers, including AP, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Northern Virginia Sun, The Press-Republican and The Bainbridge Chronicle (established by Susan Bainbridge). In 1986, Susan worked at WDCA-TV Channel 20 as a guest hostess for "Eye On Washington." From 1990 to 1994, Susan reported and anchored for "The Arlington Weekly News." Additionally, she produced a segment for the G. Gordon Liddy Radio Show. A prolific writer, while in high school in 1977, Bainbridge wrote an episode for NBC's "Little House on The Prairie" entitled "Laura's Best Friend." Though the show's producers did not use the script then, NBC producers encouraged Susan to pursue a writing and journalism career. Susan is a member of the National Press Club, the National Press Photographer's Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. Susan Bainbridge's recognitions include from former Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton, former First Lady Nancy Reagan, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the late actor Lorne Greene, among many others. BAINBRIDGE NEWS was founded in 1980 by Susan Bainbridge (a sixth generation writer), a third generation journalist, a first generation photographer and a fourth generation entrepreneur. She is the first generation to establish a news business. Bainbridge News is dedicated in honor of Miss Bainbridge's late grandfather and idol, Mark S. Watson (The Baltimore Sun editor and war correspondent from 1920 to his death in 1966).

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