TRUDI LAWRENCE: My name is Trudi Ann Lawrence. It is June 12, 2013. It is roughly about 11: 07 a.m., and I'm at Kean University in Hutchinson Hall. Can you tell me your name, your full name?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: My name is Millie Gonzalez.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: And your age, if you don't mind.

MILLIE GONZALEZ: I'm thirty-four.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Can you state your ethnicity for the record?


TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: How long have you lived in your home?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: About thirty-four years.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Do you mind sharing the cost of the home?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: From the time that it was purchased?


MILLIE GONZALEZ: I don't know, probably something I can give you later. But it's my parent's home, so.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. How many rooms are in the house?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: One bedroom. You need all the other rooms, or…?

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: The bedroom is fine.

MILLIE GONZALEZ: It's just -- well, there's just a bedroom, yeah.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. Is there a reason why you chose to live in that house?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Again, it was my parents' home, so that's where I grew up.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. How about the neighborhood? Is there a reason why maybe your parents chose the neighborhood or you chose to stay in the neighborhood?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yeah, absolutely. It's definitely a friendly neighborhood. It's very family-friendly. We're six blocks away from the beachfront, so it's close to the beach. Just a good neighborhood altogether.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Can you state the neighborhood first?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yeah, sorry. Union Beach.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay, Union Beach. Is there a reason that you like this state in particular?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: The reason why I like the state?


MILLIE GONZALEZ: I'm a Jersey girl at heart. I don't know. Every time I leave New Jersey, because I leave for conferences or vacations and for things like that, and I like where I go, but when I come back, I know this is where I belong. I don't really know why. I just feel like this is home.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. Tell me about your family. Who makes up your family?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: At home, I was living with my mom.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: But I have other family. But at home, that's who I was living with.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Right. What is your occupation?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: I do public relations.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: How long have you been doing it?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Approximately ten years, a little bit over ten years.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. Do you mind sharing your salary or income bracket?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: I'd rather not.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. Tell me some places that you hang out in the area.

MILLIE GONZALEZ: In the Union Beach area?


MILLIE GONZALEZ: Probably one of the most frequent places that I would hang out and spend some time is at the beachfront. That's probably one of the biggest things. Other than that, home and friends' homes, that's basically it.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. How involved are you in your neighborhood, in your community?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: I'm not, I'm not. Yeah.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. How would you describe the schools, the economics of the community, the reputations, any nicknames that it might have, if there's a lot of crime or not?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: No. It's actually -- I think I mentioned before it's a very kind of family-friendly neighborhood. Schools, I think, there's one main public school, which I think it's great. There are certainly people from all economic backgrounds. If I had to guess, I would say we certainly -- our community kind of lower middle class community but somewhat diverse. And I'm missing some of the questions here. You mentioned schools and…


MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yeah. Honestly, when crime happens, you hear about it because it's not as common.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: It's just not common, so you do hear about what happens. So it certainly occurs. It's just not something that we're constantly dealing with in terms of what's happening in town.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: And the overall general reputation of the community?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: I think it's good. I've never said I live in Union Beach and had somebody be like, "Oh, that's terrible," or even, "Oh, that's great." Honestly, frankly, I think until Super Storm Sandy happened, Union Beach was barely on the map. People didn't really recognize it. But then all of a sudden, people started to recognize it as one of the places that was affected by the storm. I think we're kind of our own little town and keep to ourselves in a way but also in a very community way.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. Now we're going to begin to talk about the storm. When did you first hear that the storm was coming?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Probably a couple days before it actually occurred. It really started to get a lot of momentum on the news. But maybe even sooner than that. I'd say at least a week, if not before that, when I first heard about it.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: What were your first thoughts when you heard the storm was coming?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Honestly, I went and thought about the previous storm that had occurred, which right now I can't remember what.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: Irene, was it Irene? So I thought about Irene and just thought about the fact that we had -- my family and I, my mom and I, who like I said live together. My sister who lives in her own house, in Keansburg, a different town that was also affected. Went to one of my friends' houses in Cranford. And basically, nothing happened. There was more damage technically in Cranford with the downed trees and water surrounding the areas where we literally couldn't leave Cranford to go home because those areas were so messed up.

I thought about that and just thought about, "Okay, we really need to assess whether or not we're staying or going." And the other thing was just waiting it out to see news-wise, forecast-wise what was going to change.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: What did you expect about the storm?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Similar, similar. Kind of thought that what happened with Irene would happen again.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: We didn't get any water damage, we didn't really get any major wind damage or anything like that at home, so kind of expected the same thing.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: How did you prepare? What were the precautions that you made?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: As it got closer, I would say, literally… let's see that happen on, what, the 28th or 29th, I think? As it got closer, one, just thinking about it, and two, talking with my family to decide what we were going to do, whether or not we were going to go again to Cranford or try to go somewhere else, and… did not prep. I mean, it's a broad question in the sense that it depends on when.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: In terms of supplies. Did you go to the store to prepare anything?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: No, not really. So I kind of to fast-forward a little bit, my mom, my sister and I decided that we were going to go to my sister's house in Keansburg because she has a second floor, so we figured if anything occurred on the first floor, we can evacuate to the second floor.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: So that was part of the prep, but also, just kind of getting not even -- I would say three to five days' worth of clothes and medicine and just stuff that I would need for a couple of days. I called her, made sure she got batteries, made sure she had the things that everybody talks about, the canned foods and the water bottles and those kind of things. But again, enough for max five days, a week, something like that.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: Like, "Yeah, we're fine. We've got everything. I have stuff in the cabinets," and whatever. We weren't scared of it. We weren't afraid of anything major happening, because in the thirty-four years that I've lived in my house and the forty plus that my parents had lived in my house, nothing had ever occurred.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. Do you feel like you had adequate warning?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yeah, I'd say we had adequate warning.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: How do you feel about the governor and his warnings?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: I have to be honest. I don't recall specifically anything from the governor, so.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: That's fine. Did your area have an evacuation warning, and did you evacuate?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: We did evacuate. When we evacuated, we did -- and I'm assuming at some point it changes to a mandatory evacuation. But when we evacuated, it was still a recommended evacuation, just kind of like…


MILLIE GONZALEZ: So technically, we had not yet evacuated, but we decided to evacuate.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. Did you make any preparations for your cars?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yes. So I am disabled, physically disabled, and my car is a van with an accessible ramp. It's an electric ramp, which took basically a year to get. So I wanted to make sure that at the end of all this, I was going to still have a car. The only place in my town is literally an abandoned -- like Bradley's Parking Lot, a store that no longer exists.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: Basically, everybody in the town that has a car and was worried put their car in this lot, so yes. My van went to this abandoned parking lot that luckily, knock on wood, never gets water, did not get water during the storm, so my car was okay.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: That's good. Take me to the day of the storm and when -- I guess for you guys it hits Sunday. So, where were you when you really started to see like, "Oh, the storm is here. It's arriving"?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: We decided to go to my sister's house, like I said, in Keansburg, and that's where we were. It probably actually started -- I'm not sure of the days. You said Sunday. I don't even know what day it was [unintelligible - 00: 10: 49] to this point. I think it started -- so my birthday is on October 27th. I think that it started October 28th. The winds and stuff started on the 28th. And I think the actual storm part may have started the next day, but I'm just not sure.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: But anyway, so basically, the first thing that we saw was wind and how much the trees were moving and just the power of it. You just already saw how wild the winds were going to be. So that was the first sign of it.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: What was the rest of the question? I'm sorry.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: That was it. You had the conditions of rains and winds. Did your power go out? If it did, when did it go out?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yes, our power went out, again, technically that evening before the actual storm.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. What did you do? Did you go to bed?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: No. We did not go to bed. I guess at some point, yeah. At some point, we didn't really have a choice. It was one of those worst situations where you go to bed but you're kind of listening to the wind and you're looking out the windows and you're trying to prep for all of whatever is going to happen. I still had a little bit of power on the phone, so frankly, trying to check Facebook and see what else was going on in the world because it was faster to check Facebook than it was to try to go to local news channels' websites. When you go to Facebook, everything was there. So it's like "Okay, everybody else in Union Beach. What's going on? Who has power?", and trying to figure those things out. Yeah, I guess at some point eventually, we did just go to bed. But -- I'm sorry, my memory is a little skewed in terms of the series of events, but the storm itself, after we saw the winds and after we kind of heard the things and everything else -- tell me if I'm going too far ahead of it.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: But basically, I was downstairs in my sister's guest bedroom and looking out the window. I -- all of a sudden it got really, really dark, and I was like, "Okay. I think the storm is coming," and I'm kind of yelling out the door. My mom's in the living room. My sister is in the kitchen. She has a split level, so she was in the kitchen kind of looking into the lowest part of the house to see kind of what was going on. Nothing was happening, and all of a sudden it started to rain. Harder and harder, it started to rain. And literally, out of a movie, like it was out of a movie, just -- I was looking out the window to her guest bedroom, and I saw just this dark -- what looked like black water started to come down the streets, just tons of water coming down the street. It started to seep on to the property. It looked like it was going to come slowly at first, but then all of a sudden, you just saw more and more and more water coming, getting higher and higher and higher on the property. What's crazy about that is that although my sister lives in Keansburg, she also lives about six blocks from the beachfront of Keansburg. Her particular place in Keansburg had not received flood. Like if there's flooding all around her, fine, but there had never been flood on her property before.

So we're watching the water and I'm watching the water rise and I was like, "You know what? The water is coming up pretty fast." She yells from the other corner of the room, "I think there's water coming into the house." Okay, so we're still watching it. She's like, "It's coming in, but it's not too bad." She puts towels down; we're trying to keep it under control. And again, it felt like it happened within minutes, but just I watched the water rise and started -- my sister's car was outside the window, so I could see my sister's car. It was a Ford Escape, so kind of a mini-SUV, mini-truck, whatever it is. So, pretty high off the ground.

I watched the water levels come up towards her car. I said, "The water is getting close to your car." She was like, "All right. Keep watching and let me know what happens." I'm watching it. It starts flashing. The car starts flashing. The horn starts going off. Now, the alarm is full blown. I'm like, "Okay, your car is basically underwater at this point. The bottom half of your car is underwater." No sooner did I say that, I heard that kind of again, movie sound, of [sound] just -- that's it.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: It just shorted out. It was not -- I was like, "Your car just died." I was like, "Okay." Well, at that moment, I was like, "I gotta go to the bathroom." So I get out of the room, and when you step out of the room, there's a little -- I was on my crutches at that time, because the house is not accessible for my wheelchair. So I was on my crutches at that time, and I stepped out of the room and there's just little kind of square carpet before you get to the bathroom. So I stepped on that on my way to the bathroom, and my foot sank and my crutch sank and I -- excuse my language, but I was like, "Holy shit. I think there's water in this coming in." No sooner did I say, "I think there's water coming in," my sister says "It's starting to flood down here." I see water seeping into the living room. I was like, "We got to go upstairs." That was it. I finished going to the bathroom, got back out. We took what we had brought with us, we took it upstairs. And that was it, didn't know what was going to happen for the next couple of hours. Again, no electricity at of this point, no way to even see how bad things were going on downstairs.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Was it dark out? Was it nighttime?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: It was very dark. I see -- that part is so not in my memory in terms of timing. I do remember just thinking that the floodwaters were coming faster than I had expected based on the last forecast I had been able to see before we lost the electricity, before we lost everything else. It was coming in faster than they said it was going to come in.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yeah, it was definitely dark. Whether it was more dark because of the storm itself, clouds and things like that, probably.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: That's what I was trying to figure out, if it was night.

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yeah, probably. But it was certainly dark.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yeah. At some point, it was just hard to function in the rooms because there was just nothing. Yes, so that was basically -- I would say the first couple of hours of what we experienced.

That's all very -- putting it very lightly. All I can say is that I will never forget the impact or the impression that the floodwater is coming down the street, coming onto the property, flooding my sister's car, coming into the house, all those things. They're so clear. Those pieces are so clear, are things that I'll never forget.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. Did you have anyone that you needed to communicate with apart from your mom and your sister?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yes. One, my dad, who lives in a different part of New Jersey, just to let him know that we were okay. But we were unable to do that. So that point, again, no cellphones. And something that I didn't realize until this was happening, that when you're connected to Verizon DSL or any one of those packages where you get phone Internet and cable or whatever those things are, your phone is also -- your landline phone technically is not a landline phone, so your phone shuts off as well. Because we had no home phone, we had nothing.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: So there was just no way of communicating with anybody. And then also, while it was less of a necessity in terms of anything that I needed, I knew that my friends -- thanks to Facebook, thanks to conferences, and things like that, I have friends in every part of our country, who were watching what was going on in Union Beach, knowing that I live there. So ideally, I would have been able to get in touch with them as well.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. Did you eventually go to sleep?




TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Did you sleep peaceful?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: No. Did I sleep peaceful? No. Actually, we kept waking up. Nerves were pretty high. Anxiety was really high. Yeah. What else? Sorry about that, yeah.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: Broken sleep, for sure.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: When did you notice that the immediate storm ended?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Probably the next morning, probably not 'till the next morning, because it did last, the rains and things lasted quite a bit.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. What was going through your head when you woke up the next day?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Wanting to know how bad it was. Actually, can I backtrack for a second?

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: You sure could.

MILLIE GONZALEZ: In the storm and everything, once we were upstairs, we were still trying to look out the windows and things like that. Things that were making an impression -- and I say making impression because there was just a phrase in Spanish that basically means it's making an impression on you but it probably doesn't make sense in English. But my point is that something that kind of sticks out in my mind is that there were… garbage, like dumpsters.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: That were floating in the streets. They looked like cardboard boxes. They looked like it was easy for them to move. And they were metal dumpsters going down the streets. There were just people's things all over the place. In Keansburg, there is the Keansburg Boardwalk, the Keansburg Amusement Park. We started we see the arcade machines floating around the streets, things that for us, we grew up going to Keansburg Arcade, and now we're seeing these things floating around in the streets. Just wild, wild things that you start to see. And realizing in that point how powerful this was, how much damage there already was and stuff that we couldn't see, that was crazy.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: This was before you went outside?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yes, absolutely. This was literally rain still falling, floodwater still in the streets. You could see some of the neighbors trying to hang out on their porches but not even being able to stay there because the waters were going so high. Because a lot of the houses in Keansburg, just like they are in Union Beach, are very low, single-level homes.

Just knowing by looking out the window that these homes were flooded. Pretty much every single home around us was flooded. That part was kind of crazy. And I probably went off topic, so.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: You can put me back in.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: It's fine. Basically, you're telling me -- it flows. When did you actually go outside?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Let's see. I personally did not probably go outside for at least three days after the storm.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: At least three days.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: What did you see when you finally went outside?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Everything. Things that did not belong outside. One of the other things that was startling -- just talk about randomness. We did see some of the arcade games. We saw -- one of the dumpsters that I mentioned earlier was wedged between the back neighbor's house and my sister's fence, just wedged. I don't know how it got there, but it was wedged. My sister's car's not working. Just debris everywhere, debris everywhere, trees and just garbage. One of the things that was in my sister's front lawn for a very long time was the seat to a child's potty, which is just sad, because it's a part of little kid's life growing up or whatever it is, it was a kid's. People in Keansburg, there's -- what I saw in Union Beach was different, so hopefully we'll have a moment to get there as well. But in Keansburg, seeing just people kind of not knowing what to do with themselves. Yeah. I don't know. Just destruction, a lot of destruction.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: What did you do?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: That day, probably nothing. I think -- I can't recall again days-wise how many days it was 'till we finally went -- we were finally able to go to Union Beach later. I want to put in a story that you'd have no way to ask about, but the following day, when the storm was over, the waters had not yet receded. We were all -- I'm still upstairs. My sister had gone downstairs to assess the damage. And I hear my sister laughing. I was like, "Why are you laughing?" She was like, "'Cause I'm looking outside the window because somebody is singing O Solo Mio outside the window and I'm trying to figure out who it is." I'm like, "Okay." She's like, "It's our father. He's in a rowboat." My dad could not get to us because he couldn't call us. He couldn't get to us in the car because the floodwaters were still out, so he parked his truck by Highway 36, took out his row boat from the back of his truck, and took the rowboat down the street to my sister's house to make sure we were okay.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Where does your dad live?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: He lives in Perth Amboy. So getting out of Perth Amboy -- because Perth Amboy had, from what I understand, had a lot of damage, wind damage and trees down and things like that, so not so much water but more other kinds of damage.

Yeah, and I say that story, one, because it just shows kind of the power of family but also how desperate people were to figure out what was going on. So I say that. And the fact that we couldn't get out. So this was a good twenty-four hours probably after the storm that there was still a ton of floodwater and stuff.

So, that was that. And then -- go ahead. I don't know. I don't know where to go from there.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay, I'll [unintelligible - 00: 26: 36]. Did your sister suffer any damages?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yes. The car, like I mentioned, completely gone. And my sister's car was only a couple months old, still paying it out, so definitely. Her split-level portion of her house was completely flooded, several feet of water, probably a good four plus feet of water. The remnants of that and everything that was coming through the floors that I had experienced when I was leaving that room covered the guest bedroom, the bathroom, the closets downstairs, the living room, the kitchen, all of that, water steeped in from the bottom. So yeah, she experienced a lot of damage--leaking in the roofs and the ceilings, lots of things.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: What was the mood of the community?



MILLIE GONZALEZ: What's interesting is that for me, the feel of the community in Keansburg, possibly because it's not my community, felt very different than my community in Union Beach when I got to Union Beach. I would say that the community in Keansburg was just as it was before, in some ways. There are neighbors that kind of speak to each other and there are other people that -- you do feel like people are kind of checking in with each other, but at the same time, I think it was such a devastation personally for people in Keansburg who are very low-income to begin with to have basically in some sense had nothing and lost everything. So that part, you could see that. You could see that in the faces. It was much quieter than it always was. Keansburg's kind of rowdy. It was quiet. It was just solemn. It was solemn. It was just kind of sad all the way around.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Were you able to get in touch with anyone else? Your cellphone wasn't working. Was it working, or it wasn't?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: No. At some point -- we had AA batteries and a portable cellphone charger. My sister and I kind of took turns. But every two AA battery would basically charge your phone for five minutes before the batteries were wasted and that was it, you had five minutes to use your phone. So yeah, if we needed to get in touch with anybody, we could a couple days later. But again, very short periods of time.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Did you have cellphone coverage when you needed it?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Cellphone coverage, like the cellphone…?

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Like you had service?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yeah, I guess so. You know what? Because during the major parts of the storm, we had no way to charge our phones, so we didn't know that.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay, so it was dead anyway, okay.


TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Take us to the next day. How did you do your day-to-day necessities--showering, eating? Was any of that at least affected by the storm to begin with, or…?



MILLIE GONZALEZ: All of it was affected. No hot water. No stove. No oven. No microwave. No can openers mean. Anything that was on power that needs to be plugged in did not exist. We actually, at my sister's house did not have power for thirteen days, so that was thirteen days of all of that. So yes, how did we do the day-to-day? The next day, the first day of not having a good shower's okay. One day, you get through a day. Because you know what? At that point, schools were closed. You couldn't go anywhere anyway.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: The power was not on in the town, so there was nowhere to go. Even if you could go somewhere, there's nowhere to go. There's still a lot of water in the streets, so you couldn't go anywhere anyway. That was it, yeah. So, cold showers, cold showers for a couple of days.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. What about eating?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: The first couple of days, it was a matter of leftovers that were still okay. Again, the refrigerator wasn't working, so that was very short-lived.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. Did you have any medications that needed to be refrigerated that were affected?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Not that needed to be refrigerated, no.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay, so you're in good standing. Did you stay, or did you go back to Union Beach?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: A couple days later, I'd say about three days later, the water had receded enough in the streets that we could get leave and go back to Union Beach. And we wanted to go kind of check it out. We had both gotten a lot of text messages and phone calls and Facebook messages saying, "What's going on? I'm watching Union Beach. It looks destroyed." We had no idea what was going on. We were like, "What do you mean it's destroyed?" We had no clue.

So yes, we finally got to go back to Union Beach about three days later, and we hadn't even gotten to our street yet and the devastation was incredible. It was incredible. We almost didn't recognize our town. There were armed guards; there were tanker trucks, basically, army trucks at the end of most streets. But even to get to our street, we need to just show our ID to get down our street.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Which street do you live on in Union?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: 6th Street in Union Beach.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yeah, almost literally six blocks from the ocean, maybe seven to the shore.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yeah, from Union.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: That's parallel, I should say?



MILLIE GONZALEZ: Which is interesting because of all the different bodies of water in Union Beach, obviously people got affected from the beachfront up to basically us, a little bit further, and then from the other body of water that's closer to what used to be the Union Beach Adult school. I don't know what it is now, but anyway, that area, there's also water behind there.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Yes. That's the area by the marshes and the swamps? Okay.

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Right. So then, kind of water came from both ends. People down towards that area seemed to have gotten, in some cases, more damage than people that were further away, closer to the water but further away from the water. I don't know if that makes sense. Closer to the beachfront, rather, but further away from there. But anyway, so we got to our street, and already, we're only talking, like I said, about three days later, and pulling into the driveway and opening of the door, you could already start smell the dirty water edging on mold. It was already bad. You already knew that there was damage. That's it. We found out -- we opened our doors and there was still water. All of our carpets were still soaked. There were stuff that this is a single-level home. Like I said, one bedroom, one living room, kitchen, bathroom, and a little kind of foyer, where everything else is. Stuff that was supposed to be in the kitchen was in the living room, complete opposite side of the house. Some furniture knocked over, just everything wet, everything. I couldn't believe it.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: You made no preparations to preserve your home?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: No. Other than -- before we left, I think we had moved a couple things. I moved a couple things on top of my bed, like silly things, like a bag of new clothes with a couple little things that I had gotten. Nothing, but nothing. No, in terms of the home, honestly, the last thing we expected was our home to get water.



TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. How long before at least some stores were open in your area? We're in Union Beach now. Wait. Quick question. Did you ever go back to Keansburg or you stayed in Union Beach after that?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: We have not stayed in our home since then.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yeah, I know. Sorry. It's a little confusing.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: No, it's not. I guess it's wherever you were, I guess.



MILLIE GONZALEZ: Well, they're closed enough that I can kind of answer in general. So literally, kind of Union Beach or Keansburg or both Highway 36 so you'll just literally go down a couple…


MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yeah, like a mile or so and you're in the next town. So, it's all generally the same area. I don't know how long I would say minimally. Gosh, minimally about a week before the normal things were open, like Walgreens and McDonalds, even. I don't remember. One of the days -- I guess that McDonalds had just opened. And again, timing-wise, I'm sorry. I can't even give you specifics because I don't remember. But I'd say roughly a week after things had happened, maybe the longer and McDonalds opened, you'd think McDonalds was a gourmet restaurant that was giving away free food. I think people -- there was such a big line to just go to McDonalds, and I think people just wanted a little bit of normalcy and wanted food because they had been eating probably cold food for a week, because nothing in the area was open. That was wild. Just watching that occur was interesting. And yeah, Walgreens, I'd say at least a week or two. All the other things, ShopRite, all those stores, it took a bit to get those all back and running, because all of them lost electricity as well, so all their foods spoiled and everything else.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: How was it to get gas? How bad was gas lines or gas shortage?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Gas shortage was awful. My dad had actually -- probably about five days after the storm, my dad had finally managed to find, buy a generator, a very small generator. But again, the generator needed gas, so he was getting gas from towards the Perth Amboy area early on. But then that started to be harder to get as well. So the shortages were terrible. Again, we couldn't -- in some sense, we couldn't go anywhere. You don't need gas for your car because there's no place to go. There was so much devastation that the thought of even trying to go work or trying to do whatever it was, it was the last thing on somebody's mind. It was just trying to function at this point and get through the day. The only thing we needed gas for technically was the generator. So my dad was able to bring some gas for a while. Then when the gas shortages let up a little bit in that area of New Jersey, the lines were outrageous. At least half an hour on a good day, on a good time to get gas, but if not, more like an hour and a half, two hours to get gas.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: How was the mood in the community of Union Beach when you arrived on the third day?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: People were walking around like zombies. It was like a town-wide funeral is what it felt like. So sad, so lost, so… yeah. I don't know. Just really downright depressing. People… I think in the beginning, at least, very just shocked. Shocked and sad at all that was happening, because everybody started hearing what had happened to this family and that family, the houses by the shore. Not even being able to get to the beachfront. That's what I mean by shore, sorry, to get to the beachfront. Not even being able to go there because it was all blocked off and knowing how bad things were, blocks in, six, seven plus blocks in, to know that what was going on closer to that water line was awful.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: How did you begin cleaning, both you and Keansburg, your sister?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: I'll talk more about myself just because my -- Union Beach, because that's her thing. In some sense…

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: You were back in Union Beach, okay. So yeah.

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yeah. Well, yeah. We haven't stayed in Union Beach since because the damage was so bad that we haven't been able to stay there. But we -- how did we start to clean up? The first thought was to try to salvage anything we could. Basically, anything that touched anything below bed level was gone, was drenched and not salvageable. So really, we kind of picked up things that were in higher cabinets -- what do they call that? The curio cabinet that's in the kitchen and some of my mom's stuff that was in there, we grabbed that. And the bit of clothes that we can grab that wasn't soaked, we grabbed that.

So again, at first it was just the taking stuff that was salvageable. That was kind of the first step. After that, it just became buying extra-strength industrial garbage bags and just picking up and throwing away, picking up and throwing away. And that was it. Yeah.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Who did you look to for support? Did you call your power company or insurance company and FEMA?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yeah. We actually called FEMA as soon as we found out that our home was flooded. Well, my sister called FEMA as soon as she found out that her home was flooded, which was the next day, she had already called. As soon as we found out that our home was flooded, we called FEMA. Literally from the driveway of my house, we called FEMA and tried to apply and did what we had to do. Power company, no, not right away. Insurance company, we actually do not have flood insurance, and so, no, we didn't have an insurance company to call.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. How long did that response take? Were you able to get through immediately to FEMA and get a response?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yeah. Everything from FEMA to apply for FEMA was automated, so yeah, that part was pretty painless in the beginning.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. Did your town have a protocol? Was there any curfews?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: I couldn't tell you the details of it, but yes, I believe there was. But the bottom line at that point was that when we were going into the house, we have to go kind of late enough in the morning to where the sun was actually out and had to leave before the sun went down because there was no electricity in the house.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: Plus it was freaking cold, so only a couple of hours in the house was all we could handle. I don't know about what the protocols actually were. I'm sure there were, I'm sure that there were curfews, and I'm pretty sure the curfews were early in the beginning. I want to say there were seven, but again, I'm not positive at that. But yeah, we couldn't have stayed until seven anyway because of the dark.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. Who did you work with?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: For -- what do you mean?


MILLIE GONZALEZ: You know what? It was my mom and I, mostly.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: In terms of the clean up? Is that what you mean?


MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yeah, mostly my mom and I. My dad had come and helped for a little bit, helped us kind of move stuff out, and we would pack garbage bags and he would come and take them out to the curb, things like that. We had one day where two groups of volunteers came on one day and helped us moved out, like the furniture, because all of our furniture was gone, everything from the dressers and the standalone closets and…


MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yeah. My mom's bed. My hospital bed was ruined, because once it gets wet -- it's mechanical, so once there's saltwater in it, that's it, all of it. So the day that the volunteers came, they kind of just uprooted all of our furniture out--couches, side tables, everything.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: How did you cope with all your loss?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: I didn't at first. You're just trying to get it done.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: You're just trying to get it done. But there were moments of stress, moments where I would be at my sister's house and she would make a comment about like, "Oh, your stuff's all over my floor." I'm like, "That's all I have." And I would get mad because that's all I have. By my stuff, she meant three or four bags that I had brought with me. That was it. That's what I had left. Really, it probably didn't hit me until a couple weeks later when I was coming, when I was back going to work. I was driving to work and I literally felt like, "Wow, I feel like I'm tired of throwing my life away, literally." Like literally putting my life in industrial-sized garbage bags and putting them on the sidewalk. It just gets to you at some point.

How do I cope? I don't know, crying. I do cope, but no. You know, that's it.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: How did your community cope?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: I think my community, they built different things. There's a campaign called UB Strong, so Union Beach Strong.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: Which I think is something that came out of this. And my community just tried to find and to help each other to find resources to how to fix it.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Your community had a positive or a negative response?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Both, certainly both. So I saw a positive response in the sense of community building and the UB Strong campaign. There was a person who collected -- who was like the central place to collect photos and things like that that people had lost that were on the streets and in the marshes and things like that. People went around collecting photographs and went to this central person, and this person created a Facebook page and all this other stuff. That was something that helped. But we also had town hall meetings in other towns, where Union Beach residents were invited to go and people were waving fists and screaming and frustrated and all of that, and so I think there's both. I think that there's a sense of community but there's also a sense of anger and frustration and everything else that goes on with the loss and the lack of response from insurance companies and things like that.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Did you feel safe where you were?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Did I feel safe in Union Beach?



TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: No, after the storm, in terms of was there a lot of looting or anything like that, crime, [unintelligible - 00: 47: 26]?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: So, did I feel safe? Yes. Frankly, we didn't have anything worth stealing, so it didn't matter, or anything that was worth anything. I mean even like -- what's that called? My Kindle, all that stuff was ruined anyway. We didn't have anything to steal. We didn't have any of those things. Yeah, I did. I did feel safe, but we did certainly hear stories of even -- a week into it, electricians coming out and people kind of attacking the electricians for their copper because they're using copper wire and that was what they could sell. Yeah, we heard terrible stories.

So yeah, there were terrible things, but no. I never felt unsafe. At that point, our doors were open all the time because of the smell, everything else that was going on, so everything. All of our windows and doors were open while we were in the house. I never felt necessarily unsafe, but certainly cognizant fact that there was stuff going on.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. How was the response of the police or with your interaction with emergency personnel? How did they respond? Were they very friendly? Were they non-responsive?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: I don't really know how to answer that because we didn't necessarily have interaction with emergency personnel, so sort of non-existent, in some way. I would assume if we needed it, they would have shown up. Yeah, so I don't know how to answer that.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Any religious communities come out and help you?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yes. We had a group of Jehovah's Witnesses from Pennsylvania and a group of another just religious community from Pennsylvania as well, but I'm not sure who they were. The… gosh, what were they called? The -- I forgot their name.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. That's fine.

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Let's see. Something Church of Christ. The Gateway Church of Christ came out and continues, I think, to work with the Union Beach Borough to provide relief, supplies, and things like that. They were a huge, huge piece of the community. Unfortunately, for somebody like us who really pretty much lost everything, our house is currently still on a demolition list. We're waiting for our house to be demolished. But for other people who basically can do repairs and needed refrigerator or needed bed, or needed whatever, somebody like Gateway Church of Christ would help them to get that.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: But we can't take a refrigerator, take a bed, because we had no place to put it. So that didn't really make sense. But they were really helpful.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Did you get any aid, and where did it come from? Food, community aid, governmental aid, any of those kinds of aids?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Again, at Union Beach Borough Hall, there were opportunities to get food pretty daily. I think they were offering lunch and stuff like that daily. There were some kind of special days where a local restaurant would come and do hot food, like barbecue or something like that, so we had that. Again, Gateway Church of Christ offered frozen meals at some point. That was weeks afterwards. There is an organization called Portlight Strategies that works with specifically disaster relief for people with disabilities. They early on provided a small stipend to me directly for the couple weeks following the storm just to help pay for food, that kind of stuff, and batteries and things like that. Because again, we still, for two weeks basically after the storm, we had no electricity, so to continue to pay for those kinds of things. Portlight Strategies was huge. We didn't have insurance, like I mentioned. FEMA provided early on two months, I believe, of housing assistance.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: Later on provided a very small amount towards, I guess, what they're seeing as the costs of repair, which doesn't makes sense because we're not repairing the home. We're demolishing the home, and we need to rebuild our home, so what they're providing is nothing in comparison.

Then I also worked directly with the New Jersey Division of Disability Services to try to help facilitate, because again, all of my supplies, my wheelchair -- I'm right now in a power chair, but my manual wheelchair broke a couple of days after the storm from being in the house and getting the saltwater and everything else. It just basically started to fall apart. Shower chair at the bathroom and again, my medical, my hospital bed, all those things needed to get redone. Are we running the end of time? No?

So, all those things did happen. So I went directly to the New Jersey Division of Disability Services thinking if they couldn't help me, they would at least know who to direct me to, so that was helpful. I think -- though I'm not sure of how the whole Portlight Strategy's connection happened -- they contacted me on Facebook. I didn't know who they were. I don't know how they knew who I was. I don't know how that happened, but that happened. And then, lastly another thing that was awesome and probably -- there were two things that made me cry early on in this whole situation. The first was a combination of going into my town and seeing my neighbors look like zombies. Particularly, across the street from us, there's an older couple who are retired. Their whole house was flooded. I literally weeks after watch them taking their floors and their walls out their front window. And it's just sad. And then seeing my mom's reaction to that, seeing that my mom was so sad about it, that made me sad. But the other thing that made me cry was a good cry, and that was that within twenty-four hours of my friends online, Facebook friends but real friends, in the disability community, because mostly people who I had met at -- my disability is spina bifida, so I had people that I met at the Spina Bifida National Conferences who had become great friends. Within twenty-four hours had started online crowdfunding page for me. So I have not received money from that yet, but that was awesome, and that's where some of the community aid came from was there.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: I think those were kind of the basics where aid came from.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: How long were schools out or before buses ran within the community?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yeah, so I would say at least two weeks from work/school. And in the community, the problem is that -- I mentioned earlier in the interview that we have one basic grammar school in town, and that school was an evacuation shelter place. Place of -- I don't know what they call them. I guess that's technically a shelter, but where people would go to evacuate. However, they had to evacuate that place because that place started to flood as well. Again, in the first time in its history being there, that place flooded.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: So they have to move as well. So that was the main school. So it took a couple weeks for students to be able to go back to school. Even when they did, they went to an alternate location. For a while, they went to two different alternate locations, so they split up the schools. And then ultimately, they all ended up in one local, no longer used Catholic school building, and they just now -- so you mentioned that we're in June, and that school, our local grammar school just moved back into their building a week ago, literally.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. How did you contribute to your community?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: I'm going to talk specifically about the disability community, just trying to find other people with disabilities in my community that may need assistance because I knew some places that could possibly help them get assistance. So I tried to do that. And then the other thing really was just sharing information. It seemed like you could sell information, probably during that time, because people just didn't know what to do. All these processes of FEMA and all these processes of the Borough and if you had to turn off your electricity and your sewage and your water and whatever, you name it, you had to turn it off, and it's like, "How do you do all that? What do you need to do first? Then who do you talk to? What form do you fill out? Where is the money coming from?" You start hearing about all these things, about the Robin Hood Foundation or whatever foundation, they raised. $10,000 here and they rose more there. Where do you get this money from? How do you connect to the people that supposedly got all of these money? So it was just a sharing of information, so literally just going to places and online talking to people and say, "How are you doing? How are you doing? What are you doing? Here is the resource that I've just found. See if it helps you. It didn't help me, but see if it can help you." So just sharing information, probably one of the most -- even though it sounds really simple, probably one of the most helpful things that you could do at that time was just to help. And then you know what? Still, as crazy as it sounds, even though at some point, it felt like I had lost everything, still trying to contribute financially or otherwise to people who probably had less than I had, even though I had nothing, still had less than I had in some ways.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. Can you describe at length or if you feel -- let's talk a little bit more about your losses.

MILLIE GONZALEZ: In some respects, I keep saying I lost everything, and in some ways I did. But, as you guys have probably heard from others, the biggest losses are pre-digital cameras and cellphones, when you had photos.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: Absolutely. Photos, stuff from -- my grandfather and my grandmother are both deceased, and I was very close to them. And just the stuff. We still had a few things that my grandfather always had on his desk. And the minute the saltwater hits these things, the condition that they were in, you just couldn't keep them. Again, I keep saying photos. Photos was probably the worst thing to lose because they were… very few were able to be salvaged, very few. Yeah, just memories. Memories was the hardest thing.

Going through the silly things, like my diary when I was a teenager or younger and trying to peel these pages apart, laughing at the few things that I could read and being like, "Gosh, do I keep this? Do I try to dry it out?" and just having to let go, having to let go.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: What a crazy experience. Talk about purging, like it's just like a force purging of everyone. Yeah, so I've lost everything. So in the basic level, I mentioned all my medical equipment, my medical supplies were gone. I have monthly medical supplies that I have, and [unintelligible - 00: 59: 48] comes early in the month, so I had a month's worth of medical supplies gone, all the medications. I buy a lot of custom jewelry, which is fake to begin with, so the minute it touches water, it's gone, so all that was ruined. Stuff that seems insignificant but just to kind of give you sense of all those things.

Books--I love to read books--were gone. My electronics were gone, the few things I did have. Computer and Kindles and mp3 players, all that gone. Clothes. Even a couple days later, already the saltwater had started to kind of deteriorate some of the clothes. It was kind of crazy. Everything in the kitchen, bathroom, just supplies and stuff that are in the bathroom… furniture, carpets. Yeah, everything.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Was your house gutted?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yeah. It started to be gutted. But when they started to gut it, they realized how bad the damage was and it didn't make sense to continue because they just decided it was more reasonable to tear it down.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Did you receive an orange sticker?



MILLIE GONZALEZ: But, which doesn't makes sense because we received a statement from the Borough that the damage of our house was more than fifty percent of its worth and that it was unsafe to live in. But technically, the sticker was not orange.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: So go figure, I don't know.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Your house has never been condemned and non-livable?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: It was deemed non-livable, yes.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: But not condemned?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Right. It was -- and the problem was also that the stickers were given out within the first couple of days, I think that first day that we were back, and the assessment for that sticker was literally a walk around the outside of the house. There was no way to see all the damage that was going on like that.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Understandable.

MILLIE GONZALEZ: So I think it was not accurately based.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. But you think that you probably would have gotten an orange sticker.



MILLIE GONZALEZ: Pretty much guarantee that, yeah.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: How do you feel about the response that you got from your local government, FEMA, the federal government?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: My first gut response is that almost eight months later, I'm still waiting for a response, because their response has not been sufficient. I'm still working with FEMA, so I'm not giving up with that quite yet. I have applied to [unintelligible - 01: 02: 40] grants that my town -- my town. I don't know about my -- when you say local government, my town, Borough Hall, mostly volunteer workers have been great. I will say that. I don't know what I think about the governor. I don't know what I think about FEMA as a structure. I'm still waiting.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: Still waiting. I will let you know when I get a new house, when I have a house to live in, when I get back into Union Beach, which is where I live.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Do you feel like New Jersey adequately prepared for the storm? When I say adequately prepared, I mean do you feel as though that they had enough dunes, that they had a structured place, amenity and place for these houses knowing that these are beachfront houses, homes? Do you think that they did all that they could in warning everyone?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: In warning everyone, in the sense of evacuation, yes. All I could say -- I don't know. I don't know how to answer that because I don't know anything about actual protocols in terms of dunes and things like that. I just don't know about that. But part of why I don't know them is the same reason why probably everybody else in Union Beach didn't know them. We didn't need to know. In the thirty-four years I've been there and the forty plus years that my family has been there, we've never needed to know. We've never had this problem before.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: One of the houses was affected was actually on the cover of Time Magazine. It was the house that when you looked at the house, you kind of half of it…


MILLIE GONZALEZ: Yeah, half of it was standing and you can kind of see the beach, the water, rather, through it. And my understanding is that was the oldest house building in Union Beach.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: Suffice to say that that the oldest existing house structure in Union Beach was on the beachfront. It had never had this problem before. It had survived however many years it had been there. We didn't need it. So I don't know that we could have ever expected this to happen and truly prepared for this. I don't know.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: By you saying that, do you feel as though there was nothing that you think could have been done differently?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: I don't know.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: I don't know. I'm sure that there's always something more that could be done. I'm just not sure that we would have done enough. I don't know that we would have expected this to do more.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay, I understand. Do you think that anyone is to blame or it was just nature having her way?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Do I think anybody was to blame for this storm?


MILLIE GONZALEZ: That's a funny question. In some sense, no. I think it's an environmental scenario. I think as humans, we've probably pissed off Mother Nature, and I'm sure we have something to do with it. I don't think any one person has anything to do with it or any one group of people have anything to do with it. I think as humans, we've really pissed off Mother Nature, and I think that's part of what's happening, so yes. Do I believe in some of -- I don't necessarily believe in some of the conspiracy theories of, like, somehow somebody made this happen so that we would go through this though, no. But I do believe that -- I guess that as humans, I think that we've done a lot of damage to the earth, and I think this is a result of that damage.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. How do you feel about media coverage? Do you think that the media have portrayed Union Beach accurately, or it was just the sensationalized type thing that they had going on? Did you feel that Union Beach was properly represented?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: That's interesting because I wasn't able to see a lot of the coverage that happened directly after the storm, so I don't exactly know. I will say that I knew it was bad because other people were telling me how bad it was based on what they were seeing. So I think that there was some sense of the devastation on the news. I always feel as though not enough local voices are heard on the news, so I don't have any real answer because I wasn't watching it. But I would suspect that there was probably not enough local people talking about what was going on. But yeah.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: How do you feel about Obama making his presence and Chris Christie?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: There's a lot that still needs to happen, and a lot people -- we are not okay. Union Beach is not okay. Might there be some families in town that are okay, that got there insurance money or had money and are able to rebuild or do whatever they need to do? Sure. I'm sure there is, but I think there's a lot more that needs to be done. I feel that it's one thing to put yourself out there in the media. Let me say this, I would feel better if Obama or Christie were out on the streets and there was no news cameras.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. Chris Christie being very passionate about his state through the news, did your opinion of him changed?


TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: How do you feel about the response of the rest of the country?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: As in most huge crises, I think the response from the rest of the country was very strong in the beginning, very much appreciated. There's a situation that I had, a moment that I had that I realized how important it was with the rest of the country contribute in any way they can. And in some sense I mean not financially but it doesn't only have to be financially. One of the first days that I went back to Union Beach, we went to the Borough Hall to get some supplies because they were giving away bleach and things like that. One of the things that I had received was a box from the American Red Cross that said -- and I should mention them too as somebody who provided some aid in town, but who gave a box that said Emergency Kit. When I got this kit, I was just like, "Wow." When Katrina happened and I text to donate my $10, that just gets sent to my bill and my bill's ridiculous anyway, like everybody else's cellphone bill. It's another $10, right? But I realized that my $10, somebody in New Orleans got a box that said Emergency Kit that my $10 probably helped to pay for. It just shows the power of those little actions that people make that you think in some sense are insignificant. They are not insignificant. So I think that there was a nice response from the rest of the country. I love that people came from other parts of the country to work and to volunteer and everything else. I'm really happy to see a lot of young folks coming out and doing those things. Overall, I think it's good. I wish -- and I know that some of it is continuing, but I wish that realistically, people could stick around for longer until it really gets figured out.



TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: How do you feel about the response that you received in your time of devastation to the response that people in Katrina received?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: I think we didn't learn enough from Katrina. I think we didn't learn enough. I was just at a conference about again, specifically for people with disabilities about emergency response for people with disabilities, and I think that there are some states that have learned from the mistakes or the situations or the scenarios that occurred in Katrina. But there are other places that have not learned from that. I think the fact that Katrina, that there are people that were affected by Katrina that are still not in a stable environment goes to show that we still have a lot work to do.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: How has this shaped your environmental views? Does it make you think about changing anything?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Literally about the environment?


MILLIE GONZALEZ: No. It confirms the fact that the environment is much stronger than we are and that we probably need to start paying attention more so than we have in taking care of the earth and being prepared to protect ourselves from it.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Do you have any personal changes from the storm? Does the storm make you feel like you want to move out of Union Beach completely, raise your home, or take any more precautions?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: By FEMA regulations, we are required to raise our home, which is an interesting thing because as I mentioned a couple of times, I'm disabled, so we have to raise our home. The early -- I don't know that this is still accurate, but the early estimates or guidelines for raising our home in the area that we're in is that we had to raise our home four feet higher than it currently is.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: From a disability perspective and from the ADA bylaws, for every inch that you go up, you need a foot of ramp. If we have to raise our house forty-eight inches, minimally forty-eight inches, which is four feet then I need a forty-eight foot ramp, which means if you think about that, my property is only 50 by 100. My ramp is going to be down the street. If I just build one straight ramp, it would be down the street. That is the only thing that makes me reconsider living in Union Beach.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: Union Beach is my home. It's all I know. New Jersey is all I know. The other thing is that our mortgage was paid off, so basically we own our property. So in some sense, it doesn't make sense for us to go pay to own property somewhere else. We can just be rebuild, pay for the rebuild but still own the land that we are on. Financially, it doesn't seem like a good idea to go elsewhere, but if we stayed there, we certainly need to have different precautions, 100 percent to have different precautions.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Do you have any political changes?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Any political changes? No.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. Have things returned to normal? I can't imagine.

MILLIE GONZALEZ: They have not returned to normal. Suffice to say that -- so I've lived in… basically lived at my sister's home on the second floor, which is again, not accessible. I'm crawling up the stairs every day, crawling down the stairs every day, because that's how I can get out. I've lived elsewhere for a short period of time, but it was just not feasible financially or logistically to be living somewhere else. Every day that I drive home or that I drive from work back, it's hard for me to say that I'm driving home. I would say I'm driving to my temporary home or I'm driving to my sister's house. It's not home. Things have not really gone back to normal. The only normalcy that there is--and I think a lot of people feel this, and other people that I've talked to feel this--is that the normalcy is returning to the routine in the sense of having a job to come to, which I'm incredibly grateful for it. I think people at this point are even more grateful for the jobs that they have, that are going to help them get through this, but also having a place to go and having good co-workers and having good friends. And despite having to change spending habits, to rein in the way you spend money and what you do with your time and running in energy right now, still trying to live your life. But certainly, things are not normal, things are not back to normal.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Apart from being at your sister's home, are there any other changes to your daily life? I guess in your case it would be an additive, like driving a little bit longer to Keansburg, or maybe you might stroll by the house every day?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: I'm definitely -- so I am driving farther.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: I mentioned before, the change of going from manual chair to a power chair. It's different for me.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: Just not having my own space. I'm not having my own home or sanctuary, not having your own sanctuary. It's very, very different. And feeling a little lost, feeling like every day you need to do something to get back to a home, and knowing that even when you get back to a home, it's not the home that you knew. It will still be your home. It's important. I'm hopeful that I will have a home. But there's also a weird sense of although I have a place to stay, I have a roof over my had, I have food and I have water now, I have electricity now, I'm homeless, in some way. That is something that on a day-to-day basis you don't forget. It really puts homelessness into a different perspective.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay, all right. Do you have any changes to the outlook of your community?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: I feel so -- in the beginning, I felt really, really close to my community, like I said, and in some sense, I do, but more online we feel connected. But because I'm not living in Union Beach right now, I just feel really disconnect it. I would hope -- I'm hopeful that coming back and once everybody's there and that people that are still there right now are connected and are keeping a sense of community, because I think it's really, really important. But I personally, right now feel disconnected in some ways to my community just because I'm not there.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: How about do you have any changes in the outlook of the world?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: In the outlook of the world, no. I think that there are good people in the world. I think that the thing is that really make a difference are our communities. I don't just mean our geographical community, but for me, my disability community and my extended family and my friends are community. Or the populations and the different identities that we take on, those are the things that keep us going, because I think that aid governmental, organizational aid only goes so far.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Yeah. Do you think that the storm had an impact on the presidential election?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: Probably. I'll be honest. I'm not a big politics person, so -- but yes, I could imagine it did. I think there's been a lot of criticism of how things have gone.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: What about -- being that, like I said before, Chris Christie was -- he was gung-ho about New Jersey, do you think that his reaction to the storm will change the governor election?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: What do I think?

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Will people change votes more on favor for him?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: I don't know, and the reason why I don't know is because, again, I feel like we're not done yet.


MILLIE GONZALEZ: I don't know. I was going to say I don't know if the elections happened today, people would be pleased. But I don't know, because although I'm not where I need to be at, because my family is not where they need to be at, and because a lot of families that I know were not where they need to be, that doesn't mean that not everybody had that same situation, so I don't know.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: What do you plan to tell your future generations, the children and the grandchildren, about the storm?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: That's a poignant question. One, just what it felt like. There's that. But also the lessons of the storm, being that the gratitude for being alive, because I know people that literally died in the storm. I know people with disabilities who have died since the storm because they didn't have access to medication, because they didn't have access to electricity for their oxygen, gas for their whatever. So I know people that have died. I literally know people who have died since the storm.

So, gratitude would be one of the things that I will teach, and also, that stuff is just stuff and memories are largely in your brain and in your memory, not so much in things, because you got to hold on to… to an extent. And yes, we get old. And yes, there's ways to lose your memory too, but that's the one thing you can kind of hold onto regardless of what's happening environmentally. So, hold onto those things.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: If you wanted to give a message, that would be the message, or you have a different message that you would like to also give about the storm?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: About the storm? Don't use the word "devastation" so lightly until you see it, and realize that there are people around the country, around the world certainly whose devastation is worst than even what we've seen, to have compassion for people around the world, who their daily lives look like what? Union Beach looked like a warzone when we got back. People live in warzones around the world, and so to realize that what we went through is incredibly serious and incredibly devastating but the devastation has many different forms, and to also do what you can, volunteer-wise, financially, whatever, whatever you can do. Do what you can do, pick up and go, volunteer time-wise, and also to really be a meaningful part of your community. Whatever community you decide to put yourself into, be a contributing member of your community, because community is what gets us through all this.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. Word of advice -- now, Sandy was one devastation. Now we have in Moore, Oklahoma. So what would be your word of advice for someone in Moore, Oklahoma who this is fresh to them but you've in a sense been there and you're still going through it? What can you say to them like, "I am eight months later, you will be here eventually"? What is your word of advice for them to help them get through?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: I think it's a combination of the couple of things that I've just mentioned. The first thing is gratitude for what you do have left. Seriously, as corny as it sounds maybe, being grateful that you're freaking alive still, just starting from there, starting from a place of gratitude. Doing, making all the connections that you need to make, filling out all the forms that you need to fill out. It's a lot of [unintelligible - 01: 25: 24] forms that you have to write. Figure it out. And use your community. Use the people that you know, and that you don't know. And become a source of information for other people, because I feel like that's the only thing that's gotten us through. And lastly, lean on people who are willing to allow you to do that, because you will get on the other side of this. I still believe that. I'm not on the other side, but I still believe there's another side of this and things could be much worst.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: What in your regards would be the ultimate legacy of Super Storm Sandy?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: For Union Beach, I think symbolically, it's the house that I mentioned before, the half house. For New Jersey, unfortunately, in some ways, I think it's that whole Jersey Shore rollercoaster in the water image of kind of what people think of New Jersey. But I think bigger than that, hopefully, part of it is the whole concept of Jersey strong, which is the other thing. There was a Union Beach Strong, the UB Strong thing, but there's also this kind of Jersey Strong concept. I think that hopefully remains a legacy for years to come, just that we're going to rebuild. I don't want to be the Jersey Shore again. We're going to be New Jersey again.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Do you think that the Jersey Shore show accurately portrayed the Jersey Shore?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: No, not at all.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. Did I miss anything, or is there anything that you would like to add?

MILLIE GONZALEZ: I'm not sure. I don't think so. Let me just look for stuff that I had thought about in the past. Just talking out loud, I don't think we've talked about all these things. Just we talked about kind of -- the one thing I guess I would mention is just in terms of post-storm relief, things that FEMA offered other than money was some different housing options. But for me, it was a matter of getting accessible housing options but also getting options that felt safe. They were in communities that did not feel safe to me, and I said at Union Beach, even after the storm, we felt safe in Union Beach, whereas the options that I was being given for temporary housing did not feel safe. As a woman, as a person with a disability, all of it just did not feel safe. I've talked about access to medical supplies, medical equipment, still needing all those things. Not having a place to put them right now but needing them too, really, as a quality of life issue. We're talking about the new building codes and what that would mean for me in terms of accessibility, the importance of trying to find the funds. Again, hearing about all these funds and not knowing where they are. Then also, as again, a person with the disability, for example, some of the funds went to a local organization that deals with people with disabilities. If I'm not eligible -- because I work full time and I'm not on governmental assistance, I am therefore ineligible for some local, non-profit organizations' funding. But if those are the organizations that are receiving funds and those are the organizations that are supposed to be distributing us funds to people with disabilities, I get kicked out of the mix because I'm not eligible from the get-go to get those funds. There's a big problem just in terms of access to resources for people with disabilities that I see needing to be addressed to. What else?

The fact that something that was -- in addition to the substantial damage that happened to my home, to the structure, to losing my medical supplies and equipment, the memories that are irreplaceable, for sure, there is also the issue of health because it was cold, because there was mold, because of the stress on top of that, that just kills your immune system to begin with, so there's been -- my mom and I both have since the storm had more health problems than we've had in a very long time, so there's that piece as well. We are still currently waiting for demolition, which I mentioned, waiting to hear about grants, which we're hoping to get because there's not enough money coming from things like FEMA. The fear that there are dwindling resources. Like I said, the Gateway Church of Christ is providing a lot of things to people who still have a home that need new whatever, new furniture and new appliances, things like that, but there's a fear of whether or not those resources are dwindling and will be there for when we finally do need them, so there is that fear. I don't know. That's kind of my thoughts in the nutshell. Some of it is repetitive, but just kind of talking out loud in terms of things that we've experienced. I think that's it.

TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay, great. Okay, and so I'm ending this recording at 12: 38.





0:00 - Interview introduction

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Partial Transcript:My name is Trudi Ann Lawrence. It is June 12, 2013. It is roughly about 11: 07 a.m., and I'm at King University in Hutchinson Hall.

Segment Synopsis: An introduction to the interview with Millie Gonzalez.



0:16 - Brief biography

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Partial Transcript:Can you tell me your name, your full name?

Segment Synopsis: Gonzalez talks about feeling like New Jersey is her home and where she belongs. She also states that crime is very uncommon in her neighborhood in Union Beach.

Keywords: Area; Beachfront; Community; Cost; Crime; economics; Ethnicity; Family; Home; House; Income; Lived; Neighborhood; New Jersey; Occupation; Rooms; Salary; Sandy; School; Schools; State; Storm; Town; Union Beach


GPS: Union Beach, Nj.
Map Coordinates: 40.446403, -74.177787

5:00 - First thoughts of the storm / preparations

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Partial Transcript:Okay. Now we're going to begin to talk about the storm. When did you first hear that the storm was coming?

Segment Synopsis: Gonzalez mentions thinking about the damage caused by Hurricane Irene when she first heard Hurricane Sandy was coming. She also states that her and her family were not scared of the storm and tried to prepare as much as they could.

Keywords: Adequate warning; Area; Assess; Batteries; Cars; Changed; Cranford; Damage; Evacuate; Expect; Family; First thoughts; Floors; Food; Governor; Home; House; Hurricane Irene; Irene; Keansburg; Lived; Mandatory evacuation; News; Precautions; Preparations; Prepare; Sister; Storm; Supplies; Town; Tress; Warnings; Water; Wind


GPS: Cranford, Nj.
Map Coordinates: 40.658340, -74.299471

10:19 - Day of the storm

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Partial Transcript:That's good. Take me to the day of the storm and when -- I guess for you guys it hits Sunday. So, where were you when you really started to see like, "Oh, the storm is here. It's arriving"?

Segment Synopsis: Gonzalez talks about getting information from Facebook because it was much faster than checking news websites. She discusses the water around her sister's house in Keansburg rising quickly.

Keywords: Bedrooms; Beds; Car; Dark; Doors; Electricity; Facebook; Flood; Flooding; Food; Hit; House; Impact; Keansburg; Kitchen; Living room; News; Night; Phone; Power; Property; Rain; Rooms; Sister; Storm; Street; Trees; Union Beach; Wind; Window


GPS: Keansburg, Nj.
Map Coordinates: 40.441604, -74.129982

18:04 - Day after the storm

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Partial Transcript:Okay. Did you have anyone that you needed to communicate with apart from your mom and your sister?

Segment Synopsis: Gonzalez talks about not being able to contact anyone through phone during the storm. She also describes what she witnessed in Keansburg when the storm ended.

Keywords: Car; Cell phones; Country; Damage; Debris; Destruction; Family; Friends; Garbage; Highway; Home; House; Immediate; Internet; Keansburg; Kids; Morning; Neighbors; New Jersey; Outside; Perth Amboy; Phone; Rain; Sister; Sleep; Stories; Storm; Street; Trees; Union Beach; Water; Window


GPS: Keansburg, Nj.
Map Coordinates: 40.441604, -74.130153

26:01 - Damages suffered / mood of the community

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Partial Transcript:Okay, I'll [unintelligible - 00: 26: 36]. Did your sister suffer any damages?

Segment Synopsis: Gonzalez describes the damages her sister had faced from the storm. She also talks about the difference in the mood of the community between Keansburg and Union Beach after Hurricane Sandy hit.

Keywords: batteries; Bedrooms; Ceiling; Cell phones; Community; Coverage; Damage; Devastation; Experience; Flood; Floors; House; Income; Keansburg; Kitchen; Living Room; Mood; Neighbors; Service; Sister; Union Beach; Water


29:44 - Heading back to Union Beach

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Partial Transcript:Take us to the next day. How did you do your day-to-day necessities--showering, eating? Was any of that at least affected by the storm to begin with, or…?

Segment Synopsis: Gonzalez describes how the days after the storm were in her sister's house. She also mentions that she made no preparations to preserve her home before the storm.

Keywords: Area; Beachfront; Beds; Damage; Day-to-day; Destroyed; Devastation; Doors; Facebook; Furniture; Home; House; Kitchen; Lived; Living Room; Messages; Mold; Moved; Ocean; Power; Preparations; Schools; Shore; Sister; Storm; Street; Town; Union Beach; Water


35:18 - Stores reopening / gas shortages / mood of Union Beach

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Partial Transcript:Okay. How long before at least some stores were open in your area? We're in Union Beach now. Wait. Quick question. Did you ever go back to Keansburg or you stayed in Union Beach after that?

Segment Synopsis: Gonzalez talks about the lines at McDonald's after it had finally opened again after the storm. She also mentions how hard it was to get gas and how it wasn't too much worth it only because there was nowhere to go (most places were still not opened at the time).

Keywords: Area; Beachfront; Car; Community; Devastation; Electricity; Family; Food; Function; Gas; Gas lines; Gas shortage; Generator; Highway; Home; Keansburg; Lights; Lost; Mood; New Jersey; Normal; Normalcy; Shock; Shore; Shortages; Stores; Town; Union Beach; Weeks


40:00 - Clean up / Support

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Partial Transcript:How did you begin cleaning, both you and Keansburg, your sister?

Segment Synopsis: Gonzalez talks about gathering the items in her home which were salvageable still upon her arrival.

Keywords: Beds; Clean; Clean up; Curfew; Damage; Electricity; FEMA; Flood insurance; Flooded; Furniture; Garbage; Helped; House; Houses; Insurance companies; Keansburg; Kitchen; Morning; Power; Protocol; Response; Salvageable; Sister; Support; Union Beach; Volunteers; Work


44:34 - Coping

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Partial Transcript:How did you cope with all your loss?

Segment Synopsis: Gonzalez describes the feelings she endured while trying to cope with the remains of Hurricane Sandy. Gonzalez talks about the sense of community yet sense of anger and frustration given off by the residents in her neighborhood.

Keywords: After the Storm; Building; Community; Cope; Coping; Crime; Facebook; Floors; Garbage; Help; Helped; Hit; House; Looting; Loss; Photos; Resources; Response; Safe; Sister; Stories; Street; Town; Union Beach; Weeks; Window; Work


48:30 - Response of emergency personnel / religious communities

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Partial Transcript:Okay. How was the response of the police or with your interaction with emergency personnel? How did they respond? Were they very friendly? Were they non-responsive?

Segment Synopsis: Gonzalez discusses those of the Gateway Church of Christ coming to assist her and her family. She also discusses the aid given from those at the Borough Hall.

Keywords: Aid; Batteries; Beds; Borough Hall; Church; Community; Cost; Disaster; Electricity; Emergency; Facebook; FEMA; Food; Governmental Aid; Help; House; Lost; Money; Neighbors; Opportunity; Organization; Pennsylvania; Police; Rebuild; Religious communities; Respond; Response; Storm; Street; Supplies; Town; Union Beach; Weeks; Work


GPS: Borough Hall (Union Beach, Nj.)
Map Coordinates: 40.439465, -74.179304

54:45 - Contributions to the community

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Partial Transcript:How long were schools out or before buses ran within the community?

Segment Synopsis: Gonzalez explains that the schools in her neighborhood actually all combined for a while in one building. She also describes how she was able to contribute to the disability community.

Keywords: Building; Buses; Community; Contribute; Electricity; Evacuate; Evacuation; FEMA; Flood; Help; Information; Money; Resource; School; Schools; Sewage; Shelter; Town; Water; Weeks; Work


57:57 - Losses

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Partial Transcript:Okay. Can you describe at length or if you feel -- let's talk a little bit more about your losses.

Segment Synopsis: Gonzalez discusses having her house gutted but then the process stopped because there was too much damage done.

Keywords: Borough Hall; Cell phones; Damage; FEMA; Furniture; House; Kitchen; Losses; New Jersey; Photos; Response; Supplies; Town; Union Beach; Volunteer; Water


63:16 - New Jersey's Preparedness

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Partial Transcript:Do you feel like New Jersey adequately prepared for the storm? When I say adequately prepared, I mean do you feel as though that they had enough dunes, that they had a structured place, amenity and place for these houses knowing that these are beachfront houses, homes? Do you think that they did all that they could in warning everyone?

Segment Synopsis: Gonzalez believes that there could not be a way preparations could have gone differently only because a storm of this magnitude was never expected. She also believes the Hurricane hit because of Mother Nature reacting to the damage against the Earth.

Keywords: Beach; Beachfront; Blame; Damage; Dunes; Environment; Evacuation; Expect; Family; Home; House; Houses; Mother Nature; New Jersey; Prepared; Prepared adequately; Protocol; Storm; Survived; Union Beach; Warning; Water


66:38 - President Obama and Governor Christie's appearances / media coverage / response from rest of country

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Partial Transcript:Okay. How do you feel about media coverage? Do you think that the media have portrayed Union Beach accurately, or it was just the sensationalized type thing that they had going on? Did you feel that Union Beach was properly represented?

Segment Synopsis: Gonzalez discusses how she feels as though there was not enough local voices heard on the news. She also states her opinion would change of the president or governor were in the neighborhoods without the presence of cameras.

Keywords: Borough Hall; Cell phones; Chris Christie; Christie; Contribute; Country; Coverage; Devastation; Donations; Emergency; Environment; Family; Insurance; Katrina; Media; Money; News; Obama; Power; Rebuild; Red Cross; Response; Sensationalized; Storm; Street; Supplies; Town; Union Beach; Volunteer; Work


72:03 - Environmental Views

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Partial Transcript:How has this shaped your environmental views? Does it make you think about changing anything?

Segment Synopsis: Gonzalez talks about that fact that she learned to take better care of the environment and to be more prepared. She also talks about the new rules about raising houses and how they relate to her disability in terms of getting in and out of her house.

Keywords: Accurate; Area; Beach; Build; Changed; Daily life; Electricity; Environment; Environmental issues; FEMA; Floors; Friends; Home; House; Job; Keansburg; Lost; Money; Mortgage; Normal; Normalcy; Political; Power; Precautions; Prepared; Property; Protection; Rebuild; Sister; Storm; Street; Union Beach; Work


78:23 - Changes on outlooks

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Partial Transcript:Okay, all right. Do you have any changes to the outlook of your community?

Segment Synopsis: Gonzalez talks about feeling connected with her community and how that connection fades when she is not there for a while.

Keywords: Changed; Chris Christie; Communities; Community; Election; Family; Friends; Governmental aid; Impact; New Jersey; Outlook; Politics; Presidential campaign; Storm; Vote; World


81:17 - Legacy of the storm

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Partial Transcript:What do you plan to tell your future generations, the children and the grandchildren, about the storm?

Segment Synopsis: Gonzalez discusses medical supplies and equipment and how there needs to be a place to store these items. She also talks about the fact that since she works full-time that she was not eligible for local organization funding.

Keywords: Building; Church; Communities; Community; Contribute; Country; Daily life; Damage; Devastating; Devastation; FEMA; Information; Jersey Shore (TV); Legacy; Message; Money; Moore, Oklahoma; New Jersey; Organization; Rebuild; Safe; Sandy; Shore; Storm; Supplies; Union Beach; Volunteer; Warzone; World


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