Surviving Sandy (Web Exclusives)
Eric Brophy '92 Shares Legal Expertise
In Wall, N.J., a few miles from where Brian Wilton ’97 pulled residents to safety, Eric ’92 and Elaine ’92 Brophy’s house escaped relatively unscathed. The same can’t be said for their rental condominium in Sea Bright, N.J. – a town “wiped away” by the storm, Eric says. The condo complex was for the most part destroyed, but fortunately, the Brophys’ tenant got out safety.
“When you first see it, you take a step back,” recalls Brophy of his initial visit to the condo. “You are stunned by the sight. Then you realize you can’t dwell on it. You can’t really worry about what’s happened. You have to move forward.”
Since then, Brophy, an attorney, has labored to help others move forward with their lives. Shortly after the storm, he, through mass emails, set up shop with fellow Monmouth County, N.J., attorneys inside the Belmar, N.J., town hall, administering free legal advice. “People were walking around in a daze because they didn’t know what to do,” he says.
Although volunteers and donations were in great supply, residents needed legal direction, and Brophy and a staff of nearly 20 lawyers stayed for three weeks.
Soon thereafter, he spearheaded three insurance and FEMA forums for residents and small-business owners, drawing between 150-200 total people. “I’m not the type of person who is very good at building things,” Brophy says. “I figured I could bring together a group of lawyers and help people with any questions.”
In the months since, Brophy’s expertise has been called upon by several groups, and he is now involved with the New Jersey State Board Association Task Force, coordinating a disaster recovery team that can be on hand following major events. He is also working with a group called the Volunteer Lawyers for Justice, heading up a clinic in Monmouth County, offering legal assistance once a week.
He never envisioned his involvement with Hurricane Sandy would be continuing months after its landfall, but Brophy understands the need.
“When we sign up to be lawyers, we take an oath that we will be there to help,” he says. “Whether it’s for pay or not, we are here to help people.”
Mike Short ’99 Helps Put Lives Back Together
In the hours after Sandy, when his clients needed him most, Mike Short ’99, owner of Short Family Agency & Financial Group, answered calls throughout the night. Because the storm knocked out the power at his New Jersey home and office, Short – an independent contractor for Allstate – set up camp at the home of longtime friend Craig Steel ’99, with his VoIP phone and laptop on the dining room table. With a coverage area stretching from Cape May to northern Jersey, Short heard one somber story after another.
“Everyone was frantic; most of the callers were crying on the phone,” he recalls. “You try to remain as professional as possible, but when people are telling you about their houses – sometimes they didn’t even know if their house was still standing because they have been evacuated – it gets to you.”
Of the roughly 9,000 policies his agency handles, nearly 1,000 Sandy-related claims were eventually filed.
Short’s commitment caught the attention of Allstate, which sent a film crew to feature his experience in an online commercial. (See commerical below.) Filming on the property of one of Short’s clients, the video highlights the damage to the resident’s home and the nearly 100 trees snapped on his property.
“It looked like a tornado went through there,” Short says. “There must have been 30 pine trees that snapped and hit the house. They were like daggers that pierced the siding and roof.”
Mark Degenhart ’85 Offers Helping Hand
Mark Degenhart ’85 has seen devastation before Sandy. He was 12 years old when his dad drove his family to Wilkes-Barre in 1972 to see the aftermath of Hurricane Agnes. “I vividly remember people pushing mud out of their homes with snow shovels,” he says.
This fall, Degenhart saw that level of damage again, not far from his Shrewsbury, N.J., home. Without power for just over a week, his family wasn’t badly affected. Others nearby weren’t so lucky. Degenhart volunteered full time for three weeks, first cutting trees and later assisting on a small barrier island near the ocean called Sea Bright – coincidentally where Brophy’s condo was lost.
From boarding up the downtown buildings to demolishing the first floors of houses, Degenhart completed odd jobs as the residents came to grips with their new reality. Like many coastal communities, 10-foot-high piles of discarded house goods lined the streets.
After days of seeing houses and lives in disrepair, Degenhart was always surprised by residents’ inclination to rebuild – even if the deed wasn’t in their name. “It always amazed me when talking to people, homeowners and tenants –people who had no equity in a home, who could very easily walk away – willing to rebuild, to start over. That stayed with me.”
Justin Canning ’10 Compelled to Assist Recovery Efforts
Like fellow alumni Tom Grech ’84 in New York, Justin Canning ’10 of Wall, N.J., saw his nearby neighborhoods wash away. His grandmother, living just two blocks off the Jersey coastline, lost the first floor of her house, and watched her cars float in the backyard. He says nearby Belmar, N.J., and Spring Lake, N.J., are “completely unrecognizable.” The boardwalk he knew so well is gone. (Coincidentally, Justin’s father, Mike, an attorney, assisted Brophy and shared his legal expertise at the Belmar town hall following the storm.)
Watching his grandmother and her neighbors canoe to dry land for food and supplies, Canning felt compelled to help. He and his sister host an annual dodgeball tournament every year, benefiting a Honduran orphanage. This year, they instead raised nearly $1,500 for the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, the state’s official charity for those hit by the storm.
“It seemed like every person, every store and every restaurant was having a benefit,” he says. “’Restore the Shore’ took over everything and everyone.”