Melissa Inskip didn’t cry when flooding from Hurricane Sandy rushed into her family’s Brigantine home, submerging the entire first floor and displacing them.
She held her composure when she and other storm victims were comforted by President Barack Obama at the Brigantine Beach Community Center a few days later.
But on Thursday, the 42-year-old was in tears as she surveyed the damage from an overnight fire that ravaged her partially renovated home and left it unlivable for the second time in a couple of months.
“We have to start all over again,” said Inskip, who compared the scene to post-Sandy. “This is worse.”
Inskip, her husband and two children have been sleeping at a vacant Brigantine house they have been allowed to use since Christmas, waiting to move back to their home when a neighbor called to tell them of the fire. While renovations to their home hadn’t been completely finished, the family had planned to move back within the next few days. Those plans are now on hold.
“We got two steps forward and it’s supposed to be three steps back,” husband Kevin Inskip, 44, said. “We’re five steps back.”
The fire broke out in the crawl space of the Inskips’ two-story house on the 500 block of Caverly Drive, simmering for some time before eventually moving to the second floor, where the flames were spotted and called in by a newspaper carrier for The Press of Atlantic City, Brigantine Fire Chief Jim Holl said.
Officials said the cause of the fire remains under investigation.
“It appears there’s a possibility that the fire was caused by an electrical problem,” Holl said.
Fire crews responded shortly after 4:30 a.m., and as part of making sure they extinguished fire hot spots hidden in the walls, firefighters ripped apart the new sheetrock and insulation the Inskips and their friends had installed only weeks earlier as part of their Sandy repairs.
The Inskips said they don’t know what started the fire. They had turned off the electrical circuits in their home prior to leaving for the night on Wednesday, Melissa Inskip said.
The two, who are unemployed, had spent most of November renovating the home, ripping out the water-logged sheetrock, cleaning out the mold and returning their home to a condition that would allow the family to celebrate the holidays.
Because they had not yet received enough money from insurance, the couple financed much of the work with their savings. But they didn’t have enough funds to insulate the crawl space, which left the house too cold for them and their children to live in.
So they moved into a vacant Brigantine home in mid-December until they could get more money to finish the repairs. They eventually were able to get a payout from their homeowners’ insurance for tree damage in their backyard, but due to a $5,000 windstorm deductible in their policy, the couple only received about $2,000.
Ed Rogan, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance, said while the state will not allow insurance companies to impose a hurricane deductible for storm damage, windstorm deductibles are different and allowable.
“That’s going to vary from policy to policy,” he said of the deductible. “People will trade wind deductible for getting a lower premium.”
The couple also are awaiting flood insurance money, but because it involves the bank that holds their mortgage, the process has been slow, the couple said. In addition, they are reapplying for federal disaster aid but need to wait for more insurance paperwork before proceeding further.
Flood insurance payouts can take longer if there is a mortgage on the home because checks are made out to the homeowner and bank, and require more bureaucracy to process, Rogan said.
The Inskips said with the fire, they are unsure what insurance will cover this time, and will need to make another round of calls. Rebuilding seems unfathomable, Kevin Inskip said, adding that due to stricter building codes, a new home likely will require builders to raise the structure above flood levels.
The family also is running up against a deadline of March when they will have to vacate their temporary accommodations.
“I don’t ever say it could be worse,” Kevin Inskip said as he stood in his front lawn by a pile of damage from the fire, “because I know it can.”
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