One year after surviving a tornado, we still believe in miracles Opinion

By Steven R. Moraca

The sounds of hammering nails, screeching table saws, and whirring generators drown out the collective voices of contractors signaling work orders. Big machines ride up our street, living in our home since the tornado. Diggers, earth movers, concrete makers, and tons of work trucks, most with company seals emblazoned on the side panels, parked along our driveways. ‘

One year after a tornado ripped through our Mullica Hill community on September 1, our neighborhood of 26 single-family homes is rebuilding and recovering. Red-tagged warnings from the housing department signal structures are unsafe and more than half of my neighbors have sought refuge in rental properties after fleeing for safety amid the wrath of Tropical Storm Ida.

This past year, we had a new backdrop for holidays and birthday parties, wedding anniversaries and even high school graduations because our home address changed.

Each sub-contractor offers their special expertise to help us get home. It’s a bumpy road to your home site as a traveling guest but friendly smiles and laughter can warm your heart amidst the summer heat and long work days of the construction site.

Our community has been shaken by this storm. Homes were crushed and deemed uninhabitable by insurance adjusters and housing inspectors, yet we are thankful to have survived.

We may look healthy and well, but some scars remain hidden. Anxiety, worry, and fear resurface as the clouds gather and the sky darkens. We search the sky for ominous signs of gray funnel clouds and assure each other that our storm was an isolated event, never to happen again in our community in our lifetime.

Our neighborhood was filled with sadness and loss as our valuables were hauled away in oblong dumpsters. We lost our furniture, dishes, baby blankets and our daughters stuffed animals. Our oldest daughter, one day away from her senior year of high school, lost almost everything, including her trophies, plaques and jewelry, because the wall in her room and exterior wall were pulled down by the storm. .

Unbelievably, minutes after we came out of the basement, and moments after we got our daughters out of our damaged home, I watched as my husband walked into our damaged kitchen to retrieve his wedding and wedding rings from a clay ring dish my oldest son made as a Mother’s Day gift in middle school art class. The most important thing is to survive.

But there are scars, and we hide these psychological scars behind a facade of smiles and sarcastic banter that convinces loved ones that we are OK. Denial and ignorance create barriers to our well-being. The dark cloudy sky of uncertainty still hangs above. Some seek counseling and psychological therapy to clear a path for mental health recovery.

Although my family was displaced, I was drawn to our friends who saved us. Relationships are permanent and can survive devastating natural disasters. Surrounded by love and friendship, well-being takes shape in our relationships. We are anchored by the love of our neighbors.

Mayor Lou Manzo and the Harrison Township committee supported displaced residents by expediting the rebuilding process for building permits and inspections. Local builder Joe Nastasi put up a banner with the words ‘Harrison Strong’ on my neighbor’s lawn, and those words became the mantra for our town. Local businesses held a fundraiser that gave every displaced family in our community — 44 homes deemed uninhabitable by the local housing authority — a large relief check.

I will never forget the generosity of the local sports coaches and the teachers and staff from our local school district, Clearview Regional High. They helped us clean up debris and move boxes. They collected household items, soccer gear and donated gift cards.

My youngest daughter always reminds our family, that we must “find a way to be a light in someone’s darkness”; he was completely changed by the kindness of our neighbors and friends. We will never forget the love and kindness we receive from our neighbors because their gestures of concern provide the vital fabric of the community and are stronger than any storm. A year later, ‘I still believe in Miracles.’

Dr. Steven R. Moraca is a licensed psychologist in Mullica Hill. He took shelter in the basement on the afternoon of September 1 with his wife and two young daughters.

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