N.J. Restaurant Owner Tries To Rebuild After Sandy

fromWNYC

Among the places hardest hit when Sandy made landfall last month was the small, working class community of Union Beach, N.J., just across the Raritan Bay from New York City. The powerful storm surge flooded much of the town, gutting buildings along the waterfront and destroying hundreds of homes and businesses.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We go now to the small community of Union Beach, New Jersey. It's just across the Raritan Bay from New York City. It's also among the places hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy. The powerful storm surge flooded much of the town, gutting buildings along the waterfront and destroying hundreds of homes and businesses. New Jersey Public Radio's Scott Gurian recently visited Union Beach and met one restaurant owner who's trying to put her life back together.

SCOTT GURIAN, BYLINE: Fourteen years ago, Angelita Liaguno-Dorr, who everyone calls Gigi, opened Jakeabob's Bay, a seafood and burger joint named after her two sons, Jake and Bobby. She turned it into a place you could go to get a bucket of steamers and a mug of beer, listen to live music at the tiki bar and gaze at the skyline of lower Manhattan off in the distance. Jakeabob's quickly became a fixture in the community. Now, its roof is collapsed, its deck is destroyed and parts of the building are scattered throughout the neighborhood.

ANGELITA LIAGUNO-DORR: See that teal? That's our tiki bar. That's a part of the front of our tiki bar. And this is, what? Seven dumpsters later? Did you find the couch yet? We're missing the office. We're looking for the office.

GURIAN: The little that's left of the restaurant's dining room is filled floor to ceiling with scraps of lumber and building materials. And its 20-foot walk-in cooler somehow ended up across the street on top of a parked car. It's a difficult scene to take in, so Gigi tries not to come here too often. Instead, she prefers to help out at the borough hall, where she says it's easier to find hope.

DORR: Right now, we are in the main hub of the borough hall. This is the pantry supply center. We are unpacking 400 boxes from Amazon people have donated for school supplies. So we're just trying to organize and put them in smaller boxes and send them over to the Board of Education.

GURIAN: In the weeks since the storm, Union Beach's borough hall has turned into a relief center, buzzing nonstop with activity. Residents could come here to stock up on food and other essentials. FEMA has an operations center for people to file claims. There are counselors if people want to talk. And out on the front lawn, a chiropractor gives free adjustments, while volunteers form a line to unload trucks and helicopters packed with everything from baby formula to spackling knives. Gigi says this outpouring of support warms her heart, but she's not really surprised.

DORR: I've always known that this community would always pull together. We're no longer a community. We're one big family. And that's really how I feel.

GURIAN: But while she's optimistic in the short term, she remains worried about what's next. This is the third time storms have damaged her restaurant, and it's by far the worst. Gigi says that if she's able to get enough money from her insurance company and the Small Business Administration, she would like to rebuild, but she is concerned about the potential for future storms. Still, if possible, she'd like to try to keep Jakeabob's where it is.

DORR: I believe it's the place that makes it special. If somebody said to me, Gig, listen, this is what we're going to do: we're going to do this and then we got you and we can do it here and you're good, I think I'd be foolish not to think about it. You know, you have to weigh out all your options. Do I love that location? I love that location.

GURIAN: Those larger concerns will have to wait, though, until the cleanup is complete. In the meantime, Gigi says she is distracting herself by keeping busy at the relief center. And there's plenty to keep her busy at home as well. Her house in nearby Middletown was not damaged in the storm, so she is hosting 15 friends and relatives whose homes were destroyed and who have nowhere else to go. For NPR News, I'm Scott Gurian.

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