Mike Wermuth, 19, of Brigantine, clears a wall along with other Americorps worker at a home Thursday off Grant Avenue, in Atlantic City that was damaged during Hurricane Sandy.

Vernon Ogrodnek

Local homeowners who thought their homes had survived Hurricane Sandy intact are now facing the reality that mold is eating their houses from the inside out.

AmeriCorps workers and volunteer groups are still answering the call, ripping up floors and tearing down drywall to give homes a chance to dry out before they are repaired.

“We want to get in before the homes become uninhabitable,” said Zola Pineles, an AmeriCorps coordinator.

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On Thursday a team of AmeriCorps workers and other volunteers were at Onerweese Parker’s Atlantic City home, ripping up the floors and cutting out paneling and drywall two feet from the floor.

“We usually cut about a foot higher than the water line, and then see how it looks,” said team leader Sammie French, 25.

Parker at first thought her Atlantic City home had survived Hurricane Sandy without much damage.

“I looked outside, and the water was only up to the first step, so I thought it was OK,” she said.

But the next time she looked, her front room and living room rug were wet. She stayed upstairs on her second floor, and thought maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.

And at first it seemed like the damage was minor. But then the mold started, and she knew she’d need help. She heard about the AmeriCorps program from a friend at the Second Baptist Church, called, and about two weeks later, the team arrived.

Pineles said teams will likely stay in the area at least through January.

“If anything, we’re getting busier,” she said. “Now we’re hearing from people who didn’t think they had bad damage, but now the mold is growing or the floor is warping.”

Teams of AmeriCorps workers and volunteers from other groups have been stationed along the East Coast for more than a month. They go into homes and remove damage furniture and rip out drywall, insulation and flooring as needed.

“Some jobs, like cleaning out a crawlspace, we can do in a couple hours,” said French. Others take a couple of days.

Six teams are currently working in the greater Atlantic City area, completing about 16 homes a day.

One glitch they have run into is that the Atlantic City Public Works Department had announced they would stop picking up storm debris on Dec. 15. AmeriCorps has asked to restore the pickups, noting that there are federal funds to help pay for it. Atlantic City Public Works Director Paul Jerkins was unavailable Thursday, but staff in his office said they are looking into the situation.

Homeowners said they are very grateful for the help, but can’t afford to hire someone to haul away the debris.

Christine Daisey of Atlantic City said scavengers have already come and taken the metal bed frames and other items from the pile in front of her house. She’s hoping the city will pick it up before it becomes even more of an eyesore.

“They really left a mess,” she said of the scavengers. “I tried to fix it up, but I can’t afford to pay to have someone pick it up.”

Parker, a crossing guard at the Venice Park School, was amazed at the progress made by the team, which included Richard Stockton College student Mike Wermuth, 19, of Brigantine, and a team of students from the University of California, Santa Barbara, who came for a week to help during their school winter break.

One of those students, Sally Tran, 21, said about 18 students came east through a program at the college.

“I know many low-income people don’t have many resources,” she said. “I just wanted to spend the winter break helping out.”

Most had never done demolition work, but caught on quickly.

“Their work is very good,” said Parker, who has lived in the house for 15 years. She was able to save some family photos that hung on the walls, but lost items that had belonged to her mother and grandmother, plus her sofa. She said she has insurance, so will be able to rebuild.

French, who is from Minnesota, is with the Youth Outdoor Conservation Corps there, which primarily does environmental education. But AmeriCorps trained her for disaster work and she wanted a chance to use it before her 10-month stint ended.

Some volunteers have been staying at the Community Presbyterian Church in Brigantine, and are using the Brigantine Community Center as a home base. That’s how Wermuth,who plans to become a police officer, got involved. He said he had volunteered right after the storm on weekends with other Stockton students and joined AmeriCorps teams after the semester ended.

“It’s just great to help out,” he said.

Contact Diane D'Amico:



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