BRICK – Not long after Frank and Theresa Hagen completed repairs on their superstorm Sandy-flooded home, they realized something was terribly wrong.
Black mold appeared in the corners of their house in the Cherry Quay area of Brick. The couple began cleaning their floors with bleach, but their dog became ill and Theresa developed asthma-like symptoms, said 54-year-old Frank Hagen, a retired Army sergeant who is unable to work due to multiple sclerosis.
The family’s suspicions came true in the middle of 2013 — their home was deemed toxic and infested with mold. The Hagens had no choice but to tear it down.
Nearly three years since Sandy struck, the Hagens are working to rebuild the one-story structure, but it’s far from finished.
“We just want to get back into the house,” Frank Hagen said Thursday morning inside the home, where studs and insulation stood bare.
That’s where workers from a variety of charitable organizations — United Way of Ocean County, AmeriCorps and a program call ReBuild NJ — have come to help.
Jayson Vivas, 19, of Brooklyn used his summer vacation away from the University of Richmond to join AmeriCorps in repairing the Hagen’s house. “I love doing the actual work, all the direct service, and getting to know the homeowners,” said Vivas, who also spent his last spring break repairing a Sandy-damaged home in Little Egg Harbor. “I wanted to continue that step. I knew that there was a lot of work that needed to be done.”
After Sandy pushed 4 feet of water into the Hagen’s home, the couple received money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to repair soaked drywall and insulation. But they never anticipated the second moldy disaster.
The couple then turned to New Jersey’s Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation program, or RREM, but the $150,000 maximum grant did not cover the total costs of rebuilding, Frank Hagen said.
“RREM has been a Godsend … or to date, I’d still be living with the mold,” he said. But “it’s definitely not enough.”
Nearly 1,000 days have passed since Sandy washed away homes and flooded neighborhoods, yet recovery is not complete.
“It’s three years after the storm and there’s still 14,000 people in Ocean County who are not in their homes,” said Assemblyman David W. Wolfe of the 10th Legislative District.
AmeriCorps workers and other volunteers have logged 10,000 hours of work in Ocean County so far this year to rebuild homes damaged by Sandy, said Linda Gyimoty, executive director of United Way of Ocean County. Each year, United Way of Ocean County aims to organize the repair of 30 to 35 homes, she said.
Hagen said he needs $49,500 more to finish his own house, but construction costs coupled with tens of thousands of dollars in mounting medical bills from his multiple sclerosis have caused he and his wife to exhaust their retirement savings.
To help, organizations and donors are giving the Hagen’s housing materials and labor. This summer, AmeriCorps members installed insulation donated by United Way and drywall given by another donor.
Hagen said he was grateful for all the help. “It’s been a struggle,” he said. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at now without them.”
But he said more needs to be done, since many of his neighbors are still living in their own mold-filled homes.
“We need more (help),” said Hagen. “Something has to happen on the government level.”
Amanda Oglesby: 732-557-5701; aoglesby@GannettNJ.com