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Long Branch Family Rebuilding Their Lives One Step at a Time Following Hurricane Sandy

Atlantic Avenue residents lost everything in hurricane flood waters

"We lost everything, but we didn't lose our lives and how selfish would I be if I sat here and cried over materialistic things that I lost when people have just lost their lives and loved ones lost loved ones."

That is not an easy mindset to have when everything you own has been washed away by the biggest storm Long Branch has seen, but it is truly the way Wendy Smentkowski feels.

Smentkowski lives on Sixth Avenue, one of the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy because of its close proximity to the Shrewsbury River and a storm drain on the street that backs up easily whenever there is heavy rain.

She saw her world change in a matter of hours the day of the hurricane when it caused a flood that swept down her street.

She has been forced to gut her home after her basement filled with water, which rose up through her floorboards as she, her husband, Bill, and daughter watched in horror.

The water was so high outside her house, it went up and over her husband's pickup truck that had gasoline cans in it, causing gasoline to also make its way into her home.

"We were sitting in freezing cold water and the fumes of the gas were overpowering," she said. "We basically had to get up on anything to try to get out of the water and we just stayed there."

Residents in the area where Smentkowski lived were asked to leave, but she said she could not find a place to go with her two dogs.

"My husband did not want to leave the animals, and I did not want to leave my husband alone in a house during a hurricane," Smentkowski said.

Her son told her that if things got bad to call him and that he would come to get her. She texted him as the water started pouring into her house and he, and two of his friends drove from to her house at 1 a.m.

"They parked down at the end of the block on Joline and basically stripped down to their underwear and walked, chin deep, in water with flashlights over their heads to get us out of here," she said.

She said the boys put the two 80-pound dogs over their shoulders, and the six of them walked back to the car at the end of the block through the flood water.

The Smetkowskis stayed at their son's house for a few hours, but then returned home after the hurricane began to pass the area.

"Once we walked back into the house, I opened up my front door and the stench was overwhelming," she said. "I said to myself, 'where do you start.' 

"We lost everything in this world, we did not even have a pair of socks to put on our feet," she added.

Smentkowski said she called the pastor of her church, Long Branch Covenant Church on Joline Avenue, for help.

"Before I knew it, I must have had 20 church family members at my house with clothes for my husband, my daughter and I," she said.

She said they also helped her start removing destroyed items from her house to take them to the curb.

Her next step was to call her insurance company and FEMA to see what they could do to help her.

"Because of the animals we have, our options for temporary housing were limited, so we are living in a mobile home right now," she said.

The rented trailer is parked in her driveway and that has been the family's home since the weekend after Hurricane Sandy. Despite that fact, Smentkowski has kept a positive frame of mind.

"You have a choice," she said. "You can either look at your situation and allow it to overcome you or you can overcome the situation. My husband and I chose to be proactive right from the beginning."

Still, it has not been easy to deal with the aftermath of the hurricane as she attempts to rebuild her home.

"It was very hard to see your life in a gutter...everything I owned, kids' baby pictures," she said. "It's hard to see things from your life that you didn't want to throw away, but had to."

She said her friends from church and neighbors have been helpful throughout the rebuilding process and that she is thankful for them. She said is still filing paperwork with FEMA and her insurance company and has a contractor rebuilding her home.

Through all that, she and her husband have kept a proactive mindset and are thankful for all the things they still have.

"Right now there's nothing in the world I want or I need, everything I need I have," she said. "I have a pair of shoes on my feet and these are the things you learn to be grateful for when you have nothing. To have a pair of shoes and warm socks is a blessing, to have a roof over your head and a place to lay your head is a blessing, to have food today is a blessing, because when you don't have these simple basic human needs, you appreciate more."

Marguerite Ziemba December 16, 2012 at 12:38 AM
I commend Wendy for her positive attitude. The best of luck to you and your family.

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