OCEAN CITY — The water was up to his third rib, Kenneth Thompson said, and the front and back doors had been knocked open by the force of it. The floors collapsed. The staircase to the second floor of his row home seemed to hang unsupported in the air.
Sandy had arrived.
“More water than I’ve ever seen,” Thompson said Friday as he basked in the 88-degree warmth of his recently renovated home in the 600 block of Haven Avenue, remembering the Oct. 29, 2012, storm and its aftermath.
Thompson was one of three Ocean City homeowners receiving a house blessing Friday from Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Camden and its Methodist-based partner A Future With Hope Inc. The two organizations worked together to help repair damage done by the storm and return the owners to their homes.
Yolanda Boyer, a neighbor who lives in a detached, single-family home in the same block, and Gloria Legette, who lives one street over in the 700 block of Simpson Avenue, also received house blessings as the two organizations celebrated the residents’ recent return.
Thompson, 68, has lived in the same house since 1947. The nor’easter of March 1962 had pushed water above the knee into the home, he said, but Sandy was twice as bad.
A few doors away, Boyer, 49, broke down in sobs as she recounted how distressed she had been about having to tell her brother and sister of the loss of personal items belonging to their mother and grandmother.
“An overwhelming flood of emotion is the norm,” said the Rev. Lou Strugala, of A Future With Hope, who comforted Boyer with a hug and reassuring words in her kitchen. “A house blessing allows a healing. It allows them to let out what they’re feeling. It gives them relief.”
Unlike Thompson and Legette, who rode out the storm in their homes, Boyer evacuated hers when floodwaters reached the second of the two steps to her front porch.
“I panic when the water comes to the step,” she said.
She stayed with her daughter in a nearby, higher-elevation location after she left the home in which she has lived most of her life. While displaced by Sandy, she moved from place to place, at one point living three months in a hotel.
“This house is my life,” Boyer said. “Instead of giving up and letting it go, I chose to stay. What my dad and my mom wanted was this house to be here so that all the family would always have a roof over their heads. That is what this house is for.”
Thompson said he took to riding buses to Atlantic City all night long just to have a place to go, then spent mornings nursing cups of coffee at a stop after getting off the bus.
“Oh, I was homeless,” he said.
Since Sandy struck 2½ years ago, Thompson has had numerous hospitalizations and at one point lived for nine months with his children in South Carolina, said his sister, Loretta Harris, of Upper Township.
On Friday, as warmth pumped out of his newly installed heating system, Thompson sat back in a comfortable chair and enjoyed the coziness of the room, the floors he proclaimed “a miracle” and the new windows that keep out the wind.
“I finally got back,” he said. “There’s no place like home.”
A block away at Legette’s two-story residence, located in one of the lowest spots on the island, a sign that says “Welcome, A Future With Hope, Thank you for making my dream come true, Gloria” is tacked to the living room wall. Legette said she remembers when she came downstairs after Sandy passed, she stepped in water.
Opening a kitchen drawer, Rohan Allen, of Villas, the Catholic Charities disaster program caseworker for all three residents, said the water in Legette’s home had reached as high as the silverware in the drawer and rusted it.
“We had to make a home out of a building,” Strugala said, listing the difficulties the organizations and its volunteers had encountered in restoring Legette’s home. “Today, Gloria’s home is a home filled with love.”
Melissa Hruska, director of the Sandy program for Catholic Charities, said the organization has helped more than 1,000 families in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Salem, Gloucester and Camden counties since it formed in summer 2013. It still has more than 200 active cases, she said.
People in need of assistance are linked to Catholic Charities through the 211 helpline. A Future With Hope performs the home repairs through contracting services, materials and volunteer labor, and Strugala said it is important to know that help is still available.
The groups also received funding from the Salvation Army, Cape May Long Term Recovery Group and the city of Ocean City.
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