Sunday, November 11, 2012
8:51 AM, Nov 10, 2012
Photos taken by Brian Sotelo of the tent city set up at Monmouth Park in Oceanport
by FEMA for victims of Sandy. Any resident who cares to comment on the conditions
in the shelter is invited to contact Asbury Park Press reporter Steve Edelson at
OCEANPORT — As he lights up a Marlboro and takes a slow drag before exhaling, Brian Sotelo is a man who has finally reached his breaking point. Anger drips from every word as he peers out at the tops of the white tents rising over the trees in the distance. The depth of despair in his eyes is difficult to fathom and he makes it clear he’s not going down without a fight.
We stood and talked in the cool morning air a short distance up the road after security at the front gate threatened to have our cars removed outside the entrance to what Sotelo’s identification tag calls “Camp Freedom,” even though it more closely resembles a prison camp.
A Seaside Heights resident who was at Pine Belt Arena in Toms River with his wife and three kids a half-hour before the shelter opened as super storm Sandy approached last week, Sotelo was part of a contingent shifted on Wednesday to this make shift tent city in the parking lot across Oceanport Avenue from Monmouth Park.
“Sitting there last night you could see your breath,” said Sotelo. “At (Pine Belt) the Red Cross made an announcement that they were sending us to permanent structures up here that had just been redone, that had washing machines and hot showers and steady electric, and they sent us to tent city. We got (expletive). “The elections are over and here we are. There were Blackhawk helicopters flying over all day and night. They have heavy equipment moving past the tents all night.”
Welcome to the part of the disaster where people start falling through the cracks. No media is allowed inside the fenced complex, which houses operations for JCP&L’s army of workers from out of the area. The FEMA website indicated on Monday that there had been a shelter for first responders, utility and construction workers to take a break, although the compound now contains a full-time shelter operated by the state Department of Human Services.
Sotelo scrolls through the photos he took inside the facility as his wife, Renee, huddles for warmth inside a late-model Toyota Corolla stuffed with possessions, having to drive out through the snow and slush to tell their story. The images on the small screen include lines of outdoor portable toilets, of snow and ice breaching the bottom of the tent and an elderly woman sitting up, huddled in blankets. All the while, a black car with tinted windows crests the hill and cruises by, as if to check on the proceedings.
As Sotelo tells it, when it became clear that the residents were less than enamored with their new accommodations Wednesday night and were letting the outside world know about it, officials tried to stop them from taking pictures, turned off the WiFi and said they couldn’t charge their smart phones because there wasn’t enough power. “My 6-year-old daughter Angie was a premie and has a problem regulating her body temperature,” Sotelo noted. “Until 11 (Wednesday) night they had no medical personnel at all here, not even a nurse. After everyone started complaining and they found out we were contacting the press, they brought people in. Every time we plugged in an iPhone or something, the cops would come and unplug them. Yet when they moved us in they laid out cable on the table and the electricians told us they were setting up charging stations, but suddenly there wasn’t enough power.”
All of this is merely the last straw for a 46-year-old on disability with two rods and 22 staples in his back. “The staff at the micro-city are providing for the needs of all the evacuees,” said Nicole Brossoie, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services. “Each day there is transportation to the pharmacy for prescription medications, if needed. There are ADA (handicapped-accessible) toilets and showers on site. There were concerns with the heat when evacuees first arrived. Those issues were resolved within a couple of hours by adding more heaters.”
Sotelo’s seen the home he rents on Kearney Avenue even though residents have yet to be allowed back, having been enlisted as a driver for the Red Cross. He was on the barrier islands the day after the storm, as a matter of fact. There had been a foot of water in his place. That’s it. And now he’s left to wonder why he’s still not allowed back. Even without gas or electric, he figures it has to be better than this place.
“Everybody is angry over here. It’s like being prison,” said Sotelo, who grew up in Wayne. “I’ve been working since I was 10. I’ve been on my own since I was 16 and for things to be so bad that it’s pissing me off, that tells you something.”
After a night of restless sleep in which his cot actually broke at one point, landing him on the floor, what Sotelo wants are answers and action. He wants to go home, and until that happens he wants a little respect. Finally, he tosses his cigarette butt aside and slides back into the driver’s seat of his car, ready to head back through the gates of the encampment, as confused and frustrated as ever about his future.
Posted by John MacHaffie at 7:44 PM