Ken and Kathleen Murphy were accustomed to big storms. Their house sat ten feet from the water, where Beaver Dam Creek, Point Pleasant Canal and the Back Bay all meet in Brick Township. In fact, a nail hammered into the tree in their backyard, five feet off the ground, was a daily reminder of how high the water rose during last year’s Hurricane Irene. During Irene they waited out the storm and suffered minimal damage, but when Sandy descended, they weren’t as lucky.

“We were at home Sunday night waiting out the storm, and the power started flickering around 8:00,” recalls Ken, 50. “My wife took the dogs outside and at that point nothing was happening – no waves, all was quiet. Around 10:00 she started the generator, and I looked out back and saw that the water had already risen above the nail mark on the tree. I was watching it rise on the tree, and my wife went back outside and saw that in about 15 minutes the whole front of the house was already engulfed in water.

“By the time I got to the back of the house again the water was already starting to come in. We have brand new storm doors that are supposed to be pressurized for up to 60 pounds of water pressure, so the water wasn’t rushing in but was coming up through the floor. We called 911 as the water kept rising. When they got here they couldn’t even put the truck in the driveway because the water was already so high. They sent the Brick diving team, who came and got us with a boat and took us up to the highest part of our property where we had parked the Jeep.

“I’m in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down from a work accident. They lifted me up in my wheelchair, in my pajamas and socks, and carried me out with my wife and two dogs and dropped us into the boat. We were surrounded by water and couldn’t go anywhere, so we ended up sleeping in the Jeep. In the morning they led us out in what I think was a military vehicle, telling us to follow real close and not stop. Brick didn’t have a shelter set up so we wound up spending another night in the Jeep. Our phones weren’t working so we couldn’t call anybody, and we had no ID. So we spent another night in the Jeep.”

Finally, by Tuesday the couple was able to reach their son, Chris, 21, a student at Monmouth University who had gone to his grandparents’ house in Point Pleasant. “So we drove there, and they wouldn’t let us into Point Pleasant,” recalls Murphy. “We spent another night in the Jeep. We went to FEMA and filled out an application and they gave us a list of places, but every single one within a hundred miles was full. They offered to put us in a hotel, but it was somewhere up in Jersey City.”

On Thursday, they were finally able to get to Kathleen’s parents’ house, where they are still staying. Chris and his brother Tommy, 25, a Penn State student, have returned to school. When Ken and Kathleen were finally able to get back to see their home, they discovered complete devastation.

he Murphy’s deck was found three miles away

The Murphy’s deck was found three miles away

The walls of their house had been ripped apart. They found their deck in a driveway three miles away, and their shed was turned over – on the opposite side of Beaver Dam Creek. You could see it across the water.

Inside, the family lost the contents of their home, including a safe that contained bearer bonds Ken and Kathleen were saving to pay for their sons’ college tuitions. (Bearer bonds can be cashed by whomever is holding them.)

“Nearly everything was destroyed by the water,” Ken says. “The hardest part, though, is the emotional stress it is all taking on my wife. She’s being torn apart and cries all the time. We lost everything – the baby pictures – that’s the stuff that gets to her. She paints and draws, and all of her pictures are gone.”

Murphy says the amount of money FEMA has offered won’t cover his medical equipment, and when he makes note of that, they ask for receipts, which he obviously can’t provide. He is deeply frustrated by all the red tape. And living with his in-laws in a home that isn’t wheelchair accessible has provided additional challenges. He is currently hoping that FEMA will rent him a trailer where they can live.

The Murphys are also looking for their neighbor, a mom of 10-year-old twins whose husband was killed in 9/11 and whose parents were killed in a car accident when she was young. “We kind of adopted them. We spent Christmases together. It was nice for us, because our sons are grown,” Ken says. “But her house is completely gone, and we don’t know where she is. We’ve been trying to find her.”

Entwined with the hardships, Ken has found some positives. After the storm he was contacted by the Lancaster Amish Builders, who had seen Ken interviewed on the news. The craftsmen offered to rebuild the house, taking a bus from Lancaster to Brick every day until the job was finished. Ken would pay for the supplies, and the labor would be free.

“They don’t need power,” Ken says. “They build barns in days. It’s incredible. They told me if they could work 12-hour days they could be done in one week, but we’re only allowed in the town from 10 am to 3 pm. I’m hoping that changes, and I’m hoping I can get the money for the materials. Right now, I don’t know how.”

“I’m lucky, though, because I have in-laws who have big hearts and took us in right away. I have neighbors who are living in a tent in Monmouth Park, and their kids aren’t going to school. They have no other place to go.”

As for their current day-to-day routine, Ken and Kathleen spend a large portion of the day on the phone – placed on hold – trying to turn off utilities, get FEMA updates and reorder prescriptions lost in the flood. Ken says he feels helpless while they wait to start rebuilding.

“Our house was on the water, in a beautiful location. And it was an old house; we love old houses,” Ken adds. “The Amish say they will do their best to duplicate what we had. So that’s the plan right now. We’re going to try to bring it back.”


December 2012
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