Superstorm Sandy survivors came by the hundreds Saturday to support the grassroots organization Stop FEMA Now today at the Silverton First Aid Squad building on Maine Street in Toms River.
Residents packed the ambulance bay area and spilled out onto the driveway. Many stood for the entire meeting.
"We need answers now," said George Kasimos, who organized Stop FEMA Now shortly after the Federal Emergency Management Agency released the advisory base flood elevation data. "We need the answers from our local and state officials, but especially from FEMA. The governor has been handcuffed by FEMA. The governor can only do so much with one hand behind his back."
FEMA's advisory base flood elevations are "riddled with errors," he said.
"We want them fixed now," he said. "We need common sense rules. How do you expect a senior citizen to spend $30,000 a year on flood insurance?"
Kasimos got a round of applause when he said he had a question for Gov. Chris Christie. "Does the governor realize nobody lives on the boardwalk?" he said.
Faith Ligouri - the former director of the Ocean County Department of Human Services - spoke about the reams of regulations storm victims have to wade through.
"I've looked at all the FEMA brochures," said Ligouri, who wrote a now-famous letter to local media entitled "Homeless in Seaside Park."
"I've read all of these. My favorite is 'FEMA in a pocket,' she said, holding up a tiny wallet-size packet. "Not one of them gives me a do-able answer. We need to come together We need to 'like' Stop FEMA Now on Facebook."
Ligouri called on Gov. Chris Christie for help. "He doesn't want the Jersey Shore to just be for rich people," she said. "Most of us in this room are hardworking, middle-class people."
Ligouri said she had read an e-mail from a FEMA official who said the advisory base flood elevations would likely cause "acute consternation" for many people.
"We are experiencing acute consternation," she said. "Acute consternation, my sister's butt. They will bankrupt all of us with these regulations. Sign petitions...take a bus to Washington..."
The group, Stop FEMA Now, is hoping its unified voice will reach elected officials and encourage them to speak out against FEMA's Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps, which were recently adopted by the state.
If the maps aren't changed, thousands of residents along New Jersey's coasts will be required to elevate their homes or face potentially financially-crippling flood insurance premiums in the years go come.
Saturday's meeting was the group's third and the largest.
Toms River Council President George Wittmann Jr. said the township wasted no time opposing the advisory base flood elevations when they were released in December.
They are especially concerned about how many areas were now in the "V" zone, which according to FEMA means subject to three-foot waves.
"Immediately, our antennae went up," Wittmann said. "We asked to meet with FEMA...they acknowledged that the maps were conservative. We elected not to adopt the maps."
But Christie's decision to adopt the maps statewide took the matter out of municipal officials' hands, he said.
"The V zones regulations really need to be shrunk down to a small, discrete area that really makes sense," Wittmann said.
Toms River Administrator Robert Chankalian said roughly 15,000 homes were impacted by Sandy, which struck on Oct. 29. Since then, roughly 100 permits have been issued either for elevations or demolitions, he said.
Of that amount, only a "handful" have been issued for home elevations, he said.
"Less than 10," Chankalian said.
Kasimos asked Chankalian about the status of the cleanup and dredging of Barnegat Bay.
"First they have to remove the debris before they can dredge," Chankalian said. "They are supposed to be 75 percent done in June."
The Toms River Public Works Department has already begun cleaning sand from storm drains in Ortley Beach. But some drains may be so badly damaged they will have to be replaced, he said.
"They are working street by street," Chankalian said.
Residents whose home were more than 50 percent damaged are eligible for federal Increased Cost of Compensation (ICC) grants to elevate their homes. They will have four years to comply, Wittmann said.
Residents who do not elevate substantially damaged homes within two years will receive a notice. After four years, they will receive a violation notice, he said.
"We have to protect the town," he said. "We have to make sure they don't take us out of the National Flood Insurance Program."
South Seaside Park resident James Fulcomer said he and his wife attended a state Department of Environmental Protection hearing on the advisory base flood elevation guidelines in Long Branch March 7.
"All of the experts who came said there was no scientific basis for the maps," Fulcomer said.
Kasimos stressed throughout the meeting that Stop FEMA Now is not a Toms River group, but is open to residents throughout Ocean County statewide and even nationally.
The next meeting is "to be announced," he said after yesterday's meeting.