Wendy Joan sported strips of red tape on her jeans and jacket to symbolize the delays she has encountered with state agencies and joined other Superstorm Sandy victims Thursday, rallying to voice their frustration as the third summer after the storm nears.
"This has been my life for the past 2 1/2 years — red tape," Joan said. "My insurance claim is in escrow. My neighborhood looks like a war zone. I'm living in a house with no heat like a refugee, like a gypsy, during the coldest winter ever. The cost to lift my house is more than it's worth. My husband lost his job. We're wiped out."
Her home, near a creek in Brick Township, was damaged in the October 2012 storm and still isn't fully repaired.
"We had to chop down wood every day and bring it inside and burn it," said her 11-year-old daughter, Pennie.
They were among about 75 Sandy victims who gathered to voice their anger and exhaustion as time since the storm has passed.
The state's Department of Community Affairs says 8,935 homeowners have received preliminary approval for rebuilding grants and the state has completed grant signings with nearly 6,800. But 15,000 people initially applied for help from the program; 1,225 voluntarily dropped out of the process, while others were ruled ineligible.
Many speakers at the rally faulted Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a likely presidential candidate who recently told a Virginia audience that leading the recovery from Sandy made him ready to become president.
"Sandy was the worst natural disaster to hit New Jersey, and Christie was the worst man-made disaster to hit New Jersey," said Tom Largey, whose Sea Bright home still is not fully repaired. "We had to fight to get a (state) grant, and that took the intervention of a U.S. congressman. They lost all our paperwork, over and over again. We have to show them documents, checks and bills and invoices. They treat you like you're some kind of cheater. Every time, there's a new demand."
Christie spokeswoman Nicole Sizemore said the governor and his administration "are fully committed to ensuring each and every Sandy-affected family have the tools and resources they need to get back to normal as quickly as possible."
"We've made significant progress in speeding up our housing programs and moving people through the process, and we will continue to work directly and in earnest to ensure every family's recovery is seen through to completion as quickly as possible," she said.
Kathy Serra, of Lavallette, said the ban on rebuilding aid for owners of vacation homes is hurting her tourist-dependent beach town.
"Eighty percent of the houses in our town are second homes, and they're getting no help whatsoever, and a lot of these homes have not been touched," she said. "How long can the businesses hold on? This is the trickle-down effect we're all fearing. I want to see the roads fixed, I want to see everyone get back home. ... This is America. This is unacceptable."
Joan Turnbridge, of Point Pleasant Beach, has moved five times since the storm and still can't return home. She got a $58,000 rebuilding grant, but repairing her house will cost $280,000.
"This has taken three years of my life away," she said. "Everything you try to do, something else blocks you. I just want to go home."