NJ tired of floods

Two major floods in seven months are wearing out people in New Jersey.

BY SUSAN KIM | LAMBERTSVILLE, N.J. | April 26, 2005


Two major floods in seven months are wearing out people in New Jersey.

Tara Baker was one of 4,000 people who had to evacuate in Lambertville, N.J., earlier this month when the Delaware River rose. She came back to significant flood damage. Her basement was filled with water, and she lost every major appliance down there. The good news: she had flood insurance. The bad news: her workplace was flooded, too. The worse news: the same thing happened to her in September.

It’s hard to make ends meet when you aren’t drawing a full paycheck, she said. “I lost a full week of work this time right after the flood,” said the certified medical assistant. “And I am still working half-time because they’re still repairing the office.”

The town’s police director worries that people like Baker will simply move away. Bruce Cocuzza said he hears people talk about leaving town for good this time. He helped evacuate people when the floodwaters closed in.

Cocuzza said people would have a lot less flood damage if they wouldn’t keep so much stuff in their basement. But that’s hard to avoid, he said: “Okay, I look at the amount of stuff I myself have, and I know it’s a huge undertaking, getting rid of stuff,” he admitted. “But if people wouldn’t keep so much in their basement - or store the stuff so they can quickly move it - there would be a lot less damage.”

Cocuzza said he gave people at least 48 hours notice to leave their homes - and many of them had 72 hours notice. The retired New York City police captain said few people resisted evacuating.

Baker and other residents are eligible to receive aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which declared nine affected counties in New Jersey federal disaster areas this week. But so far there has been no public assistance declaration, which means towns and municipalities aren’t eligible for federal funds.

Cocuzza worries about how Lambertville will absorb the cost. “Our overtime costs are high,” he said. “I’ve used 25 percent of my budget for the year on this disaster alone.”

For many, this round of flooding was worse than September’s. For emergency responders like Cocuzza, evacuations were different in September because he had to move people out of their homes on a sunny day. “I mean, there were beautiful days when we were evacuating people in September. In April, we had precipitation occurring.”

Cocuzza and other town officials also warned people to be aware of disaster scams. Con artists might go door-to-door with marketing scams, home repair scams, auto repair frauds, price gouging or fictitious fundraising.

Contractors may falsely claim to be certified by FEMA, and fraudulent telephone offers of emergency grants may be used to obtain financial and banking information.

Below, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs offers tips on avoiding post-disaster fraud.

-- Shop around and obtain at least three estimates for home repairs.

-- Call your state’s consumer affairs office to find out if the contractor has been the subject of consumer complains or legal action by the state.

-- Ask your contractor about his or her professional affiliations and confirm the information with the organizations.

-- Obtain a written contract. Home improvement contracts must disclose the legal name and business address of the contractor as well as a start date and completion date, a description of the work to be done, and the total price. Make sure the brand names of principal products and materials to be used or installed are listed on the contract.

-- Make sure all warranties and guarantees are in writing.

-- Do not pay for the entire job up front. The customary arrangement is one-third in advance, one-third halfway through the job, and one-third upon completion.

-- Look for red flags. Be wary if a contractor tells you that he or she needs a large payment before the home repair work can begin, insists that you pay cash, or tells you a written contract is not necessary, or that a verbal agreement is enough.

-- Be wary if a contractor has a P.O. Box as opposed to a street address, does not have a business card, or is offering plumbing or electrical contracting services but cannot produce a state license number.

--- If the contractor is offering to do electrical or plumbing work, call your state’s board of electrical contractors or plumbing contractors to ensure that he or she is licensed.

-- Avoid transient home repair contractors. If you hire a contractor, make sure you get names, addresses, phone numbers, license plate numbers and vehicle descriptions. If a problem does occur, this information will help law enforcement locate the contractor.

-- When you pay your contractor, ask for a lien waiver. A lien waiver is a receipt that states that the workers and material suppliers will not ask you for money once you have paid the contractor.


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