LINCROFT, N.J. – Last year was the first time that Steven and Kathryn Chaney didn’t spend Christmas with their three children.
“It was very strange,” Kathryn Chaney said. “We’ve been married 30 years and we’ve always had children around.”
After more than a year of moving from house to house and shelter to shelter, the Chaney family is reunited and spending the Christmas season together in their new home.
The Chaneys spent last Christmas at a friend’s house after their Port Monmouth home was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy despite sitting six feet above ground level. Steven and Kathryn, along with daughter Deidre and granddaughter Elizabeth, had planned to ride out the storm. Their sons, Steve and Ryan, had gone to visit friends when Sandy made landfall.
“An hour before high tide, there was water on our deck,” Kathryn said.
They were evacuated by an Army transport. They spent the night at a shelter and returned the next morning to find their entire street devastated. Many houses had their ground floors inundated by rain and floodwaters. Chaney said their house had two feet of water in it.
“I grew up in Rockaway Beach, New York,” Chaney said. “I’ve always lived near the ocean. I’m used to big storms. But the ocean didn’t get us. We got hit by the creek.”
Steven and Kathryn spent the next couple of days cleaning up and salvaging what they could. They spent those nights in the livable spare room of a neighbor’s house before going to a Red Cross shelter at Henry Hudson Regional High School for a week. Their next stop was Atlantic Highlands, where they spent Thanksgiving and Christmas at a friend’s house – but without the rest of their family.
The prolonged separation was stressful for the entire family. Their sons were shuttling back and forth between friends’ houses for months. Steven and Kathryn spent January in what she called “the worst hotel room ever.” The family wasn’t reunited until they got the keys to an apartment at Fort Monmouth on Valentine’s Day after a FEMA case worker contacted them in February.
Kathryn estimates that the family looked at about 10 homes before finding one in November. They wanted to return to the Port Monmouth area to give their children easier commutes to work, but their housing requirements complicated matters. The Chaneys eventually found a house in Highlands and moved in on Dec. 4. Kathryn was quick to credit their FEMA recertification specialists for their help in the home-finding process.
When asked to rank the importance of getting into a home by Christmas on a scale of one to 10, Kathryn said, “Eleven.”
Life is beginning to return to normal. Granddaughter Elizabeth is now 17 months old. “I hope she doesn’t have any memories of everything we went through,” Kathryn said. Instead of helping their neighbor put up his tree in his house, the Chaneys have a home of their own to decorate. They are also back together and under one roof.
“We can have our ham dinner and just be together,” she said.
To see a video of the Chaneys talking about their journey, follow this link: http://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/videos/89622
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