More than 300 people came in from the cold last night to learn more about FEMA, advisory base flood elevations, demolishing or raising their houses and how to get the money to pay for it.
They came from Good Luck Point, Glen Cove, South Seaside Park, Pelican Island and Toms River Shores. They came because they want to go home again, one way or another.
"This isn't a sprint, it's a marathon," Township Council President James J. Byrnes told the crowd gathered in the auditorium of the Berkeley Township Elementary School. "People are wearing down. I haven't gotten any insurance yet. I'm tearing my house down. We are all in this together and we are going to get through it."
Unlike many neighboring towns, Berkeley Township officials have held a number of information sessions since Sandy slammed into town on Oct. 29. Wednesday night's was the biggest.
Representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Small Business Administration, the National Flood Insurance Program, O.C.E.A.N. Inc., and the state Department of Banking and Insurance were on hand.
"These are not the people with the checks or the power to write them," Byrnes told the audience. "Nobody will leave here with a question if we have to take this to midnight. God bless, Berkeley is going to get through this, one step at a time."
FEMA representative William McDonald said the recently released advisory base flood elevations are "very conservative."
"We realize our numbers are not 100 percent accurate, but they are very, very close," he said.
There's a long regulatory process that has to take place before the new elevations become effective, McDonald said
"I do feel for each and every one of you," said McDonald, who lives in Brick. "We do want to make sure you get everything you are entitled to. The payment process and settlement is maybe taking longer than you would like and longer than we would like."
The advisory base flood elevations currently in effect will not impact flood insurance premium costs for now, he said.
"Once the maps are effective, you will be re-rated for the National Flood Insurance Program," McDonald said.
The Township Council was poised to adopt the advisory base flood elevations in late December, but tabled the ordinance until township professionals could review them for accuracy, Mayor Carmen F. Amato Jr. said.
"We want to make sure they are accurate and reflect the needs of our community," he said. "We have some problems with the V zone."
FEMA representative Richard Spoda deals with Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) funds.
"I'm sorry we have to meet under these circumstances," he said. "A lot of us wish we had a magic wand, but we don't. The more information that's provided, the better decisions you can make."
The National Flood Insurance Program, born in 1968, was not designed to deal with "catastrophic" events, Spoda said.
"The event we call Sandy was indeed a catastrophic event," he said. "The second most catastrophic. The program wasn't really prepared to deal with catastrophic events. We're trying to streamline settlement money, eliminate red tape and make advance payments easy to come by."
The NFIP was designed to run at a deficit, he said. The NFIP is allowed to borrow from the U.S. Treasury and pay back funds with interest.
That worked the way it was supposed to for many years, some of them even "in the black," Spoda said.
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 changed that.
"That event put us around $20 billion in the hole," Spoda said. "Sooner or later, rates in the National Flood Insurance Program will be going up."
So far, the NFIP has processed around 70,000 claims from Superstorm Sandy and closed "about 25,000," Spoda said.
"Certainly we've got a long way to go," he said.
The various speakers spent about an hour onstage in a panel discussion. Then the crowd headed to the cafeteria, where the agencies broke up into different sections to answer individual homeowner's questions.
For those worried about rising flood insurance costs, FEMA representatives had a message. They will.
But how much will depend on how compliant a homeowner is when FEMA's advisory base flood elevations are eventually adopted.
Come back to Berkeley Patch later for more information from the seminar.