One day before the largest storm of the century hit the northeast coast, a team of New Jersey Hokies volunteered to help build and secure Habitat for Humanity housing in Paterson, N.J. Still uncertain about the impact of the coming storm, the team split into groups and worked on several projects. As Sandy traveled toward landfall, one group concentrated on building a retaining wall to hold back a possible landslide in the event of flooding. Another concentrated on protecting the foundation by moving tons of dirt and gravel to backfill the property.
Several members of our New Jersey Hokies volunteer team were from Hoboken—one of the communities hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy. For days after the storm, most of Hoboken was submerged in three to four feet of water. The Path Train, which connects Hoboken to New York City and is one of the state's major commuter stations, was damaged so severely that it would be seven weeks before the system was back in service.
Hurricane Sandy hit the Jersey Shore with a force unprecedented in this region. The day after was a scene taken from an apocalyptic movie. Streets were impassable due to flooding and catastrophic damage. Some neighborhoods had been completely swept out to sea. Many Hokies living in New Jersey had their homes flooded and were without power.
Among the hardest hit Hokies were Chick and Nancy Cunningham, of Sea Bright, N.J., whose daughter, Emily, is a junior majoring clothing and textiles at Virginia Tech. They had three flooded homes on their property, two boats out of 100 left in their marina, and sand and mud everywhere. It was a disaster.
Chick and Nancy never left their home during the storm. The Cunninghams would end up losing months of income from the two rental properties, and long hours out searching for his clients' boats meant that Chick had no time to focus on restoring the damaged properties. Even though the bottom floor of the family's home had been destroyed, they continued to live on the upper floor. This family was definitely in need of assistance.
It was difficult to comprehend the scope of the damage and how to begin to clean it up. The 12-foot storm surge had flooded the homes with four to five feet of water, ripped decks off their footings, and tossed dozens of boats against each other before sweeping them out into the bay. Chick Cunningham is a guy who never complains and always has a positive outlook, but before he could even think about getting his home repaired, he had to locate all the boats missing from his marina and tow them back.
Fellow Hokies proved eager to lend a hand. Jersey Shore Hokies group founder Todd Cozzolino, whose son Andrew (finance and economics '12) is an alumnus, and Mark Maloney (hotel, restaurant, and institutional management '82), president of the New Jersey alumni chapter, took on the task of recruiting New Jersey Hokies to help begin the remediation project. The response was immediate—you can always count on Hokies to help!
More than 50 people responded. Coming and going throughout the day, the team split into groups helping to remove sheetrock, molding, insulation, and appliances. Another group concentrated on backfilling a section of the property that was washed away in the storm. With such a swift response, these Hokies successfully cleared the grounds and gutted the house, which will need to be rebuilt. Chick, who is very involved with the South Jersey Hokies, was shocked by the number of Hokies that turned out to help muck out his property. It's amazing how much work 50 people can accomplish in one day.
Though they'd helped a family of fellow Hokies, the team wasn't done. Before the day was over, the team had moved on to help another local resident. It's truly the "family" spirit of Virginia Tech.