TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay, so do you need some time?
JAMES BUTLER: No, I think I'm all set.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay.
JAMES BUTLER: So the neighborhood's here. You know your neighbors, you know who
they are. Typically, big family. So I'm one of four, and I wasn't even the
biggest family on my block. A lot of houses in Union Beach, which was both good
and bad in the storm, are second generation of the family living in it,
sometimes third. There's a lot of people that grow up here that don't leave,
and they raise their kids here. So it's a nice, very close-knit community,
which all those things with small towns is great for the fact it's close-knit.
At the same time, everybody knows everybody else's business. It also has all of
that involved also.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay, so how would you describe Union Beach, like the
schools, the crime, economics, any reputations the town has?
JAMES BUTLER: Oh, okay. I'd say, it's definitely middle class, definitely
middle class neighborhood step two though, a lot of people working two jobs, two
00:01:00family incomes here. I'd say there's probably a greater percentage of
contractors than there are doctors and lawyers, which kind of helped us in the
storm afterwards for the fact when you needed to just finally get your floors
ripped out and your walls ripped out, your next-door neighbor, there's a pretty
good chance that was the kind of person that could do it.
So, middle class. I'm aware of that, especially in the area here in New Jersey
where it could be middle class, lower middle class here and you can drive twenty
minutes into Holmdel and be upper class and drive another twenty minutes and
being called [unintelligible - 00: 01: 31] millionaire. So we're aware of where
we are in the pecking order too for this area of New Jersey. But it's a lot of
working, hardworking people.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. And we're going to start talking about the storm.
When did you first hear the storm was coming?
JAMES BUTLER: I'd say about a week before it came in. There was that whole, at
the time, cone of uncertainty. I have a sister in Florida, so kind of -- even
when those things were down the south and stuff too though, I was aware of it
00:02:00pretty early because at one point, it looked like it could have been a harder
hit to Florida, and then of course it seemed to steer up and miss my sister and
kind of aimed for New Jersey. But I'd say about a week before. Also, in
October 21st, 22nd, I started hearing in the news that -- what's the term? Cone
of uncertainty. Yes, there's a cone of uncertainty in which path the storm was
going to follow. So I was aware of it around then.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: What were your first thoughts?
JAMES BUTLER: My first thoughts, I was a little scared. Back living here in
Union Beach in 1992, we had a Nor'easter that basically put about two, three
feet of water into my house, so I knew what it was like to stand in your living
room when you're up to your shins in water. So I saw what it did and how long
it took us to kind of get everything back to normal for the fact it wiped out
our whole first floor. So I knew, and that was only two, three feet. But we
lived here along the beach, a creek along the side of us, high tides. It was
pretty common for the water to come right to our driveway. So for us, it wasn't
too unrealistic that water would come in. So I was more concerned with people
00:03:00that lived in houses close to where mine was, figuring like, okay, they could
see water. And they just kept talking about all these factors coming together
and, wow, it's also a full moon and wow, the wind's going to be blowing further,
wow, that was a pretty bad storm and wow, the water temperature is just right.
So it was very perfect storm sounding all of a sudden.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: What were your expectations of the storm?
JAMES BUTLER: I really thought it was going to be close to what I had seen in
'92. I thought those beach areas were going to see more water. It's funny. I
got on Facebook the day before the storm, and I saw more of the forecast had
basically said -- two of my soccer teams put messages out, like listen, they're
evacuating the town. Take it from somebody that was trapped in the house and
they had to come to the front door in a boat to get my family out. They're kind
of serious and you really should get out. They're shutting down power at like
five. The night before, they shut down the power and stuff too. So I was
pretty serious that we knew it's bad coming. I expected that the houses along
00:04:00the beach to get water and cross bases, maybe a foot of water in the lower
floors. But that was about it, a damage, but nothing is catastrophic as it
turned out to be.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: How did you prepare?
JAMES BUTLER: I listened to the news; I filled up my gas tank, which turned out
to be a very fortunate thing. It seemed foolish at the time, but I filled up my
gas tank. Actually, like I said, kind of tell my players what was going on,
like listen, if they tell you to get out, get out. Actually, my dad lives in a
Keyport him and my mom, they live in an adult complex there. It was one of
those the water never comes near this building; we're far enough away from the
water. He was concerned about his car in the parking lot.
So I went the day, that night before, just as it was starting to get windy.
Picked him up and move his car across the highway to Stop and Shop and stuff
too. I kept the car safe. I knew I had food in the fridge, but in hindsight it
00:05:00was kind of dumb because yes, there was food in the fridge, and then we lost
power for over a week. So food in the fridge didn't give me a whole lot of good
there. But basic precautions, thinking all right, it might be tough to get
around for a day or two, almost like you do for a snowstorm. It was kind of
like, "Eh, I want to just make sure I've got it so I don't have to go out," and
be inconvenienced more than not being able to.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Right. How were the availability of supplies and the wait
and the lines?
JAMES BUTLER: Gas was the toughest, because very early on, I'm driving from
[unintelligible - 00: 05: 39] to here to check up and help out where I could,
and that was from the day after the storm. I was back and forth. And then it
got to a point where we had to gauge your gas trips. You'd come into town and
somebody would say, "Oh, well I need to go here. Can you take me?" And then
you're running around and you realize there's a half tank, and the lines for gas
right here were two hours, three hours. So you really couldn't go almost empty
because there was a good chance [unintelligible - 00: 06: 01] plenty of it.
00:06:00They're pushing their cars on the gas line for the fact they ran out waiting to
So, that was tight. We were very fortunate that I thought very early -- we had
a lot of donations kind of come in to town. I don't know what brought him in
very early for us. I don't know if it was the fact [unintelligible - 00: 06:
18] iconic half house down the street. I don't know what it was, the image was
of Union Beach was on. But very early on, there was a lot of stuff. Even here,
this was a donation center, which is tricky for the fact that I don't usually
park in the parking lot. I park in the street because it's just kind of like
bad mojo, bad memories and stuff too because this was all tractor trailers and
people were pulling these spots here, donate clothes, water, cleaning supplies,
all that stuff there. But in the beginning, we learned the hard way you don't
realize with those things -- everybody wants to bring clothes, everybody wants
to -- oh, people are cold. When you have no house, you don't have a place to
put anything. So really, all you can do is wear the clothes on your back. So
we learned real fast -- the generosity was amazing, overwhelmingly amazing. It
00:07:00was great to see. But it was a lot of stuff we couldn't use right away, so the
issues became storage and where do you put. Basically we had a tractor trailer
full of clothes that nobody could take. I mean piles and piles of cleaning
supplies, which you don't have a kitchen, you don't have a living room. So it
really got down to garbage bags, work gloves, shovels. The goals of supplies
were those big Rubbermaid plastic bins. Because if you were cleaning out your
house really fast and you finally got to a dresser where, the bottom drawers
were soaked but the top was actually dry, it gave you something very quickly to
put things in, even if that was in your car because you had nowhere else to go.
But those bins became kind of vital.
I thought Union Beach overall was very, very lucky with the supplies that came
in. It just became a matter of so much came in it almost became an issue of
where do you put it.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Do you feel like you received adequate warning about the
storm and the magnitude of the storm?
JAMES BUTLER: I think we did. I think we received adequate warning about the
storm, but I think we've been through so many. I think we did get adequate
warning about the storm. I just think we were so used to as a community oh,
here comes high tides, move your cars. Oh, here comes the storm, here comes a
Nor'easter, move it. You got one -- it seemed like every five years or so, you
got one bad. And you could say every ten years one really bad, like they put
water into my house.
So it was kind of the warnings -- I don't want to say on deaf ears, but I think
people thought, "Oh, yes. They've told us that before." How many times have we
heard, "Oh, here comes the blizzard," and it's one inch of snow? "It's going to
be a major storm and flooding," yeah, yeah, yeah, we get it. So I think looking
back, I think the warnings were strong, but I don't think we heeded them to the
point there are people that didn't evacuate. There are people who left their
house, thinking, "All right, I'll come back later on." You know what I mean?
There wasn't any process of I'm going to leave my house but I'm going to move my
00:09:00appliances upstairs, or let me get the expensive stuff and put it someplace
safe. We didn't really -- we left to evacuate because it was kind of forced,
but I don't think anyone thought seriously about the warnings.
But if you look back in hindsight, the wordings of it, it was very strongly
worded and they really did basically say, "Get out and get safe."
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: What do you make of the government's warnings?
JAMES BUTLER: I thought he was dead on. I really do. I think he was there.
And unfortunately, I think around here, I think that needs to be the approach.
I think the approach really basically had to be like, "You're crazy for staying.
Get out. You'd be foolish to stay where you are." And even here, it really
turned out to be true. They warned people around here, and I think it came from
the governor's office first and it got passed around of there'll be a point
where we can't rescue people. There'll be a point that if the water comes up
that high, emergency service vehicles aren't prepare to do it. Sure enough, it happened.
So I think the warnings were good. Like I said, I don't think we took them
seriously around here, but I think they were often and serious and direct, and
unfortunately sometimes we didn't listen.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Right. I know you mentioned some evacuation warnings. How
did you respond? How were the responses?
JAMES BUTLER: I tried to encourage everyone I knew to get out because it looked
serious. And the other thing too, they made it very, very clear in every way
possible the night before, like five o'clock that they were killing the power.
They said, "There's going to be flooding. We don't want power lines down. We
don't want that people need to be rescued, that emergency service people are
worried about getting into water that a power line can be down and stuff too."
So it was kind of like definitely what's the sense of staying? It's October.
It's getting cold and stuff too. If there's no chance of power and you can be
trapped in the house, I thought it was time to get out.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Yeah. Take me to the day of the storm. Where were you with
the first sights of the storm?
JAMES BUTLER: First thing is I checked in with my soccer players in town,
because like I said, I know a few of them live close of the water. So just kind
of saying, "If you guys need anything, let me know." I actually came into town,
and it was about three o'clock because somebody had sent me a message and said,
"Listen, your old house, there's already water getting close." And this is
basically before the storm was supposed to have hit. So I was -- it's
[unintelligible - 00: 11: 30] real fast and stuff too. I actually have a last
picture of my house before -- there. That's my house. They're all the way on
the right. So right there, which isn't even standing, completely washed away
and stuff too.
But this is now three o'clock in the afternoon the day before. So this was kind
of bad. I got up to work early, went down there, and took that picture, like,
"Wow, that's kind of bad." And that's what I was kind of telling people, like
get out. So I went down there, then like I said, I went -- by the time I got
00:12:00home, wind was starting to pick up, starting to getting a little worried.
That's when my dad had called me about moving his cars.
So I went down and I drive him back. It was really windy and stuff too. So
when I got home and everybody else kind of hunkered down -- the scary thing
around here really was just the sound of the wind. We didn't get a lot of rain.
It really was barely any rain. Like the whole storm, really, nothing came
down. When you think about hurricane and superstorm, you think it's driving
rain. But it was just the howling of the wind. It just whipped and whipped and whipped.
I knew even where I was [unintelligible - 00: 12: 35] the town had to be in
trouble to take that kind of a lashing. The direction it was coming also was
bringing the water in, so I was a little worried. I don't know how much I slept
that night knowing that -- just hearing that sound of the wind whipping through
and knowing that people were in trouble. And then it was a matter of -- gosh, I
was in town here, probably like 7 a.m., bright and early.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. Who did you immediately speak when you arrived around
JAMES BUTLER: One of the parents of one of the kids on my soccer teams, just
because she evacuated but her daughter had stayed in the house and then had
touched based with her daughter very early morning, I want to say almost 5 a.m.,
and had put a Facebook post up because she was -- I forget where she had gone to
staying with other family, that her daughter had said basically that their house
was destroyed, that it was gone. And I knew where they lived and that was an
area that "a drier part of time."
So I figured if that house was in trouble, soon, very early on in that morning,
there could be some issues and stuff too. So that was the first one. I touched
based with her right away just to see where things were, and she said things
were such a mess. The issue she was having was she's a single mom. She's a
widow. With her kids, it was like so much stuff had been basically washed into
the house. It was tough to open the door. She was having trouble -- so never
mind seeing what could be salvaged and what could get out. It was she couldn't
00:14:00even get into the house. It blew out the windows and washed everything in, had
washed mattresses and everything up against the wall. Because I don't know if
it's all communities, but here in Union Beach, we had the "surge." So in some
areas they got a fourteen-foot wave, a lot of volume, a lot of velocity and
stuff too, like came and wiped out a lot of stuff. But forty-five minutes, the
water was gone. It was very quick. It came in, hit things, wiped things out,
and it was gone.
So a lot of houses like hers, it blew out -- it washed a lot of stuff into the
house and then left out like against the walls, against things too, kind of
destroyed a lot. Then the water kind of receded there. So that was the first
person that I'd heard there that there was some serious trouble, like I said, in
the "dry area of town."
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: What was going through your head that day when you come
around 7 a.m.?
JAMES BUTLER: First of all, it was pretty anxious, for starters, because it took
00:15:00me -- [unintelligible - 00: 15: 07] Union Beach is probably about a
fifteen-minute drive maybe. That morning, all the traffic lights were out,
you've got lots of intersections closed. So it took me a good probably forty
minutes pretty anxious of driving just to try to get into town just to see what
was going on. And we were all in shock that first day after the storm, you can
get everywhere except for Front Street right along the beach and stuff too,
because they hadn't set up any kind of roadblocks or anything the first day,
coming in, of course, I drove my house was. And it was completely -- I mean,
there was just the foundation and everything gone.
And from where I was is Brook Ave, which to everybody that knows Brook Ave is --
like every house on the street wiped out. And my first thought honestly with
seeing it was somebody had to have died. There's no way, no way that people
survived this, knowing that not everybody evacuated, that people had to be dead
00:16:00because there were houses just washed into houses. Where my house was, was
completely gone. The foundation -- right next to the middle of the street was a
house that I didn't even recognize. I wasn't sure which house it was. It took
me a little while to decipher that that had been four houses down Brook, and
that house was strong enough to basically act like a battering ram and knock
other houses down. Where it ended up, it had left other houses in rubble and
So my first thought was people have got to be dead. So I started worrying for
the fact that now, cell phones down and no power, just trying to touch base with
everyone I knew in town. I'm just trying to see. I'm still amazed. There were
casualties. I don't know how -- looking at some of the pictures and stuff too
and hearing about the people who'd stayed in the houses and swam out of
second-story windows of out of attics, I don't know how we got that lucky.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Right. What did you see, and how did you respond? How did
JAMES BUTLER: The first is that very strange… I think my biggest shock was I
think a lot of people was… just when you're walking through devastation. When
you're walking through rubble and houses that you recognize being the ones that
are down and knocked around, the worst-hit area was my old paper route as a kid.
So it's funny. I know those houses. I know the families that were in them.
So when it's personal, it's very different. I've been to New Orleans. I've
seen what Katrina did too there afterwards. I just wasn't, I think, prepared in
some ways for just the devastation there, because right away, it was -- I think
one of my very first thoughts was where to even start. At that point, your
00:18:00whole home is gone. Where do you even start? So even to help people, it's
where you do even start. Is it sorting through rubble, is it finding the
supplies they need, is it trying to find where everybody is going to stay. And
some things it was trying to find pets. It was all of this -- those things you
just didn't even know here to begin. So I definitely had that kind of shock.
And then as I'm slowly making contact with people there, it was like I'd be on
the street, okay, you guys are fine, let me just check in there because
everybody was in that same state of shock. So you go, "Do you need anything?"
and a lot of people's answers were like, "I don't even know you." I don't know
where to start.
So you go kind of house to house helping out where you could. Sometimes it was
moving a telephone pole that was blocking the driveway. Sometimes it was just
digging out enough brush and stuff until you get to a front door. Or sometimes
it was trying to salvage, "Okay you had a TV that was upstairs that made it.
I'm worried about the house falling down those, so let's get that stuff out."
00:19:00So it was a lot of running around. But I remember that shock basically that
question over and over again of where do we even get started. It took a few
days to settle down and figure out, okay, you're ready to get to work, but how,
and how to begin.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: So the damages that you mainly suffered was your home in
Union Beach totally wiped out on the radar map?
JAMES BUTLER: Gone. It was one of the odd ones that no one quite knows where it
went. We found the attic halfway down Brook just standing on its own and stuff
too, but not a wall, not a piece of furniture, not a sink, nothing. It was just
the foundation was left. It looks like it was one of the early casualties to
the surge. It looks like that kind of knocked the house down, and as everything
went, it just pulled everything out with it for the fact that the attic is
closer towards the ocean and stuff too. So it was the shock of there was a hole.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: I'm trying to picture this in my mind, so your house was…
JAMES BUTLER: Completely gone.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Is nothing. When you said you tried to find the attic…
JAMES BUTLER: Yeah, that's it. Yeah, there was nothing left standing of it.
Like I said, there was some of the cinder blocks of the foundation and busted
water pipes still running a little bit and stuff too, like from the underneath.
But when I say gone, it was gone. And to this day, nobody knows exactly
[unintelligible - 00: 20: 30] seemed like happened, but the waves coming in
knocked it down, and then the surge going back out just carried it out that way.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: So did you lose anything of value?
JAMES BUTLER: No, I was pretty lucky for the fact that my parents had moved out
of that place and stuff too though, so I'm pretty lucky that they weren't there
anymore, which was the tricky part of the storm is I live in a senior high rise.
00:21:00So one of the first things, I came into Union Beach and I quickly got a call.
They were evacuating their building because they had no power. There were
seniors. They weren't sure it was structurally sound. They were on the 7th,
So then when you go to a senior building with no power, you have 80-,
90-years-old coming down the steps that were wet, no power, cold. They're not
the kind of people you want to be displaced and don't know where they're going.
There was no plan of where to put these. So they went to shelters. They went
to -- if relatives can pick them up. So I went and got my parents, but trying
to get up, every time I tried to get up the stairs, there were issues and
[unintelligible - 00: 21: 36].
But yeah, every time I tried to get upstairs, I'd learned somebody else was
coming downstairs with their belongings, whatever they could save there. So I'm
lucky this time I didn't lose anything because I think I learned my lesson in
'92. I don't have any high school yearbooks, photo albums, all that stuff. We
lost a lot of that in '92, so I didn't have a lot of stuff around anymore for
00:22:00the fact that I lost it the first time in the first storm.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Right, okay. Can you describe the mood of the community
that you saw when you arrived?
JAMES BUTLER: Wow. Definitely shock. That was definitely there. But there
were a lot of people honestly, to work pretty quickly. So it was definitely
"let's see what we can do." I think the biggest problem was I think here was
there was a lot of confusion, because you come to your house and it's five feet
of water that's wiped things out. Where do you even begin? I think there was a
lot of confusion, so people wanting to do something, realizing, "Okay, my house
is gone," and no one is really prepared for what you do then. So I think it was
00:23:00a lot of confusion of trying to figure out how. I mean, we went to Borough Hall
basically looking for answers more than anything else. I'm like, "All right,
six feet of water. I had a one-story house. That's everything I owned. It was
my dad's house, so it's everything. My family's owned now two generation.
Where we do we go from here?"
So it was a lot of confusion in the early days. I think that first week was a
lot of shock and a lot of confusion.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Did you have cell phone service?
JAMES BUTLER: Spotty, which is funny for the fact that I didn't have it really
in Union Beach but a little better as I crossed the highway and got out Union
Because. So it's tricky because I get into Union Beach, check on somebody, oh,
this is what they need, and it almost like I have to drive out of Union Beach to
get a signal, to be able to call somebody else to try to put something together.
So that was kind of spotty.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: What cell phone service did you have?
JAMES BUTLER: I had AT&T.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay.
JAMES BUTLER: I had AT&T.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: So explain to me what happened the next day, how people were
making it through or making it through with the day-to-day necessities.
JAMES BUTLER: The next day was tough. I don't want to do that again, if I could
avoid that, just because for a lot of people, the timing of it is, okay, you
evacuated. All right, they're letting people back in, it's twelve o'clock, one
o'clock in the afternoon the next day. Okay, you're allowed back in. So I was
touching base with some people, like, "Oh, well I haven't been to the house yet,
but meet me there and stuff too, and we'll move around what we can," because
they hadn't seen it yet. So they're like, "Yes, I need help," but they hadn't
seen it yet.
So that was tough because that happened two or three times to me the first day
as I was with people as they were seeing their house for the first time. And
that was tough because there was… there are people you know and you don't them
in a way. You don't know that much. Because we thought, "We're moving couches;
we'll set up a sub pump." You know what I mean? It's like, "Okay, come on
over. Give me a hand."
I don't know. I heard -- I don't know if you call it a moan, a whale, but I
heard noises coming out of human beings I'd never heard before. And they're
going through that front door and you're there, it's like in hindsight, I wish
like I hadn't been there for that. Because what do you even say? Luckily for
me, like I said, I was living outside of town, so I'm safe. My stuff is okay.
It's just no power and stuff too though, and they've got nothing. And places
too. All the way up -- almost at Highway 36 here, where it's like -- there's
never been water. At that point, you're practically Hazlet. There's never,
ever been water there, but the creeks kind of just brought that surge to areas
of town that never saw it before. So those were people that were coming back,
"Yeah, we evacuated, but it's because they forced us to evacuate. I'm sure
we're fine." And they weren't. So it was a tough day, that first day there.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: How long was the town out of power for?
JAMES BUTLER: Conservatively, I'd say two weeks. I think there were some areas
that were probably close to a month. There were some areas that had a hard time
that was probably closer to a month. That was bad. That took a while.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. How long before certain stores were opening or you
were able to get -- people were able to get gas in the area?
JAMES BUTLER: I think gas you can rely on was probably about three weeks before
their -- whatever the timing was when the governor started was like the even/odd
and stuff too though. We kind of needed it around here because nothing close…
didn't have lines. Or you'd got on line and they'd run out of gas. I was at a
line that I sat two and a half hours. The first time I went to get gas, so I
sat for two and half hours, got within the parking lot, even the parking lot,
they would wind like an amusement park ride, so you'd kind of go there, cops are
in there, people are arguing. It was just a bad scene. And they ran out of gas
00:27:00before they got to me. I don't know. What are you going to do? But that's it.
But now I've run down to a quarter tank, so you've really got to start gauging
things out. So that was tricky.
But stores around here, there wasn't too much. I think that Wawa and Quick
Chek, they got limited power. A shop right up the street, limited power and
stuff too. But even then, no freezers, no refrigeration stuff. So there're a
lot of people that -- there were a lot of can openers became vital all of a
sudden for the fact that all of a sudden, well, it's going to tuna fish and that
kind of stuff. Well, you need something to open it because nothing with milk is
going to do you any good. Tough to cook with no power and stuff too though.
What we're going to do there, nothing refrigerated, so it became a little tricky
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Right. Since you began to look for support, did you contact
00:28:00insurance companies, FEMA, and the other companies?
JAMES BUTLER: I think what was tricky is we had FEMA here pretty quickly. Very
quickly we had FEMA, Salvation Army, Red Cross trucks, some local church groups
and stuff too. We had a lot of that very quickly. We learned unfortunately
very quickly, a lot of those agencies weren't prepared for this kind of
devastation. You know what I mean? To come with 300 blankets, it's not going
to get it done when people don't have houses and stuff too. So that was a
little tricky there.
Information became vital, and it's kind of where I'd gotten involved really
early, because coming into town, by the time I drove back home, I usually had
some kind of Internet service or something so I could actually post things on
00:29:00Facebook. I could do -- basically saying, "Okay, this is what I saw and this is
what I need," and friends would be like, "Okay, I've got clothes that size.
I've got extra jackets. I've got that." So I could actually start doing it.
And I kind of got sucked in with a lot of, "Well, what do you need? Where can
we bring it? What do we do?" because I don't think there was one good -- oh no,
I'm going to keep going still, yeah. I don't think we had a good information
source from the start. And I think that's one thing I think we still struggle
with. I think it's one of the lessons that we'll learn.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. How long did most responses take?
JAMES BUTLER: It depended who you reached out too. We learned that the local
nonprofit community groups were really, really quick with their response. They
really were on top of things with trying to get help to the people who needed
00:30:00it. The bigger the organization, the slower the response. So once you go to the
Red Cross, Salvation Army, FEMA -- and that's not to bad-mouth or so say they
did a bad job. It was just once you got to bigger and bigger organizations, it
got to be tough for them to meet the demands of it.
We have -- very early on, it was kind of -- well, I wasn't impressed
[unintelligible - 00: 30: 26] team Rubicon came in, which a lot of former
veterans there. And basically, when they pull up, it's vans, tools, kind of big
guys that can wheel them and stuff too. And really, they were going door to
door. So, "You've got a tree down. You need a hand with that? I see your
steps were washed halfway down the street. If you don't mind, we'll get the
steps put in back to your front door." Because that's what it came down too is
really almost door to door, because these people didn't know where to go to
help. And some of them, people who needed help the most were either elderly,
disabled, so they couldn't go to Borough Hall to say, "This is what I need."
They were almost, in some ways, trapped there. So it was the group that could
00:31:00actually get out, get into the community that seemed to do the most good and
have the quickest response.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Where there any protocols or curfews?
JAMES BUTLER: Yeah, we had curfews for I'd say good three weeks. It might have
even been a month after the storm. Basically as things got dark, that was it.
There were some early reports of looting also. I'm sure it happens in lots of
communities, but it definitely happened here, which was said for the fact it's
bad enough when water washes away basically the whole lower floor, but you don't
have a door that you can lock anymore. Some of your windows are knocked out and
So you don't want to stay in the house because it's not fit really for people to
stay in. You don't want to leave the house because you're worried about what's
going to missing when you're gone. So that was kind of tough to make that kind
of decision sometimes as to you stay or do you leave.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Right. Who did you work closely with?
JAMES BUTLER: Really on my own, in the beginning, for the fact of -- once I just
00:32:00checked in with the families that I coach--at that point, thirty families--so it
started there. One of the contacts early on was Gigi who owns Jackabob's here
for the fact she was kind of going around mobile, like passing out food and
stuff that way and knew me and a couple of my friends. It was just a matter of,
"Oh, somebody needs help? All right, we'll go down there." Because you'd go
and help -- I'd help one of my players' houses, help them, and you look over and
you see a seventy-year-old woman dragging furniture out on her own. She didn't
have help. So it's like, all right, then we'd go and help out. So then you
meet there, make that contact, like, oh, ended up going to Union Beach is you
[unintelligible - 00: 32: 44] oh, I don't have it bad. You think, "I've got it
bad. You should see my niece. They've just got a baby and they've got no
help." So then you go down to help there.
So it kind of was very much just community-based and bouncing around and stuff
too. But I mean, Gateway Church, when they came in, got things organized pretty
quickly with getting help out there. We had the RAIN Foundation come in, got
00:33:00things done. Like I said, Union Beach was a very lucky. When you talk to other
communities, you're not going to hear the same stories you're hearing in Union
Beach for the fact that something drew lots of volunteers here and lots of
people that wanted to help. So we were very fortunate in that respect. Getting
it all organized is even something still being worked on. It's still not quite
where it could be.
The best example I can think of is there is a board in Borough Hall where
basically people could post up, "I'm looking for living room furniture. We lost
beds for our kids and stuff too." But on the same board, you could say, "I've
got an extra kitchen setup. I got that." So when you look at the board, there
are lots of times, it was like, "Oh, I need mattresses. I need this," and
somebody is saying, "I've got a full bedding set," like pinned over. Do you
know what I mean?
Since it was just a bulletin board and it wasn't any kind of central taking in
requests and then kind of saying what supplies were, you had this big example of
here's this disconnect of people that want to help and have this stuff and
00:34:00here's people that need it and there's nothing there between the two of them, so.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: How was the community coping?
JAMES BUTLER: How is it now or how was it?
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: How was it?
JAMES BUTLER: How was it? I think "coping" is a good word. I think we were
managing the situation. We're handling as best we could. There were some
people right away that realized they're never going to rebuild and packed up and
left. I think one of the toughest things for families was the evacuation site
for the whole town was Memorial School, which was our only grammar school.
We've got only one school in the whole town. Everybody goes K through 8, and it
got flooded, which no one ever expected. That was in evacuation point.
So that's where they brought a lot of people to be evacuated, and all of a
sudden you had to evacuate the evacuation point. But that displacement there,
you get to the middle of October and end of October, beginning of November, the
kids don't have a school. Do you know what I mean? So as a community, that kind
of left people more splintered and stuff too though. I think it really was…
00:35:00like a scattering for a while. So I think people were coping, but it was doing
everything they could to kind of hold on to those senses of normal, those senses
of community, trying to piece things together just to get back to feeling
average, never mind getting ahead and getting rebuilt.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Right, right. I noticed you mentioned there were a lot of
positive responses. Did you witness any negative responses even?
JAMES BUTLER: There were some. There were some. One of the tricky things is
anytime you do something, church group comes in and they've rounded up brand new
jackets. They've had a clothing drive. They've got brand new jackets. It's a
church group that really wants to provide them there. The church group comes in
two o'clock at the afternoon on a Thursday, they give away these jackets and
stuff too though, and there's always somebody that's like, "Yeah, but some
00:36:00people have to work. That's not fair. We didn't get our jackets. What about us?"
You know what I mean? There'll always be that. But it's such a minority. It
really is one out of ten, one out of ten people you'll never please. If
somebody started getting to their house right away and rebuilding, there were
people who are, "Oh, it's not fair that they can rebuild and I can't." So
there's always that. Like I said, we heard there was looting. There were
definitely people who took advantage and stuff too. For donation places, they'd
go and round up stuff and everything too, and then you hear later on of them at
flea markets and stuff too and selling it off.
I guess that's going to go on everywhere. There's always going to be people
who take advantage. But you tried not to focus on the stuff you could avoid.
You try to get past that.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Overall, was there a sense of security and feeling safe
within the community despite all the looting and what happened?
JAMES BUTLER: I think so early on, basically we had the National Guard, which is
00:37:00a sense security but it's also security when you see many uniform with automatic
weapons at intersections. The worst-hit ones with National Guards, you had big
military Humvees there and everything too. So it was a sense of security, but
it also gave you a sense of why you needed that security.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Right. Did you personally have any interactions with
JAMES BUTLER: Lots of it, lots of it. National Guards I got to know very well,
because one house I kept going back to with one of my players, communication was
spotty. And so I was trying to meet up with her to kind of time it, like,
"Okay, you need help carrying stuff out; I'll meet you at the house." And it
was very -- communication was bad, so it was usually I'd leave a message, "I'm
heading and stuff," too, so I got to know the National Guards ones there because
basically, they escorted you on foot to the house. So if they weren't home, it
was like, "Well, you've got to get back to your car and go."
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Right. I wanted to ask you about that because I know a lot
of times, they would check your driver's license. And since I'm pretty sure
00:38:00yours is Mattawan, how were you able to get in and out?
JAMES BUTLER: It's actually where the advantage of growing up in Union Beach is,
honestly. There are probably a dozen different ways to get into this town. So
it's just a matter of knowing when I could come in down by IFF and there'd be
nobody there, so that's why I came in, which is why the -- in some ways where
the tree is set up where it is because I found it in that spot, but the only
reason I was driving along there every day was that was my only way into town
where no one was going to check my ID.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Right.
JAMES BUTLER: So I kept seeing it every day for the fact that that was my kind
of pipeline into Union Beach.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. Was there governmental aid that came in apart from
all the other aids that came in?
JAMES BUTLER: We had some, we had some. We had some legal services come in. We
had lots of different -- we had police from all over the place help ours,
00:39:00because our police force lost a lot of cars and vehicles and everything too, to
the point from other states and everything came in. The fire departments came
in. Yeah, we had just about -- and I guess it's an advantage of Union Beach had
also for the fact they basically took over Borough Hall between -- so it was
FEMA in one side of tables, the Small Business Administration for the loans,
there was another set of tables, New Jersey mental counseling services were
another set of tables. I guess because we had the space, I think our approach
ended up being we outsourced a lot of the help. It was like, "Oh, somebody
wants to come in and help. We can find a spot for them? All right, come in and
help." We didn't really solicit, but we didn't turn down any help, and I think
that's in the end what kind of set us ahead of other ones for the fact that so
many agencies came in and had a presence here basically because we were stuck
and didn't know where to turn and it was too much for us. It was like, "All
right, somebody wants to come in? All right, come on in."
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Right. So how else did you contribute to helping out with that?
JAMES BUTLER: Probably the biggest will probably be the Hope Tree for me. I had
found our first Christmas tree. It's right around that corner from here. I
kept seeing the bag, and it just bugged me what was in the bag and stuff, and I
figured out it was a Christmas tree bag. And I kept driving by and mentioned on
Facebook I kept seeing this bag, it's got an artificial Christmas tree. I was
driving by like, I'm just going to set it up. Everyone was like, "Yeah, you
should do that. You should do that." I didn't think anything of it, then
finally one night, I was just, "All right, let's go set it up. Set it up in the
dark." After we set up, I was going to assign, like, "Oh, please add
ornaments." I was like, "Ah, I've got to do something more than that." And
actually, the original sign was actually hanging in there in Jakeabob's. But I
just did a sign that was, "Dear Sandy, you can't wash away hope. You only
00:41:00watered it so more hope can grow," and then just signed it Union Beach or
I just left the sign there, and the bear tree, it fell over overnight. I had to
set it back up again. Because my plan was I'm going to set up the tree, and
once things get open again, I said, "I'm going to buy some cheap ornaments and
stuff," just put some decorations on it. It was a Christmas tree. I won't say
it's a goof, but I just took it as, like, if there's a Christmas tree there,
we're going to set it up, and I'll eventually get some friends, we'll do
something with it. And then the ornaments kept showing up. And then there was
more and more and more, and every day there was another one and stuff too
though, and it was like people writing like their family name and their address
and stuff on it. And then it became, like, "All right," so I did a Facebook
page for the tree, where somebody came to see now at this point stuff too.
So I just did a page. It was just pictures of it there knowing that it gone
blown over a lot and people left less ornaments and knowing what it would look
00:42:00like today, it was a good chance in a week between the wind and the elements,
some of those ornaments would be lost and gone and stuff too. So just keeping
-- the beginning was very much just taking pictures, like, "Here's what it looks
like today," and that's it. Then what started happening was people started
contacting me wanting to help, and not just from New Jersey but from all over
the place. The first envelope I got was from my sister out in Utah. She
harassed the doctors and stuff that work in the same hospital as her, and I got
a big envelope that was $900 of gift cards, just there. People just give it
out, and that's what happened is people came to the tree or they left messages
of like, "I just want to leave an ornament because family lost everything," and
stuff there, so it was just a matter of anonymously give them a card.
So I'd never since the beginning, I've never handed a card with a gift card to
anyone face to face, so either through somebody else and stuff too. I kept my
face out of it. I was anonymous even for the longest time. I didn't put my
name on it. I didn't want anything to do with it, just to focus on the tree.
00:43:00Now, we create a page like that on Facebook, you have to create a profile, kind
of like, so it's either I'd have to say, like, "Well, James Butler created this
You Be Hope Tree," or I have to create some other -- so I created this You Be
Hope page just to do the tree page. Then I had people messaging me just more
about information, well, how did you hear about this, what's going on here, and
then people started friending the You Be Hope one. So that became more of
gathering information and here's the people that are doing it.
People just -- usually, with the conversations, I'll just bring something up and
get out of the way. On the You Be Hope page, I just try to say something
encouraging and stuff too and just get out of the way. People are now
discussing the grants--who got it, who didn't, what the qualifications were. So
it became this community, sort of their own little news thing, and it just
started really for me with a tree. But at this point, thousands of dollars and
gift cards are coming from all over the place, and we've never really given a
00:44:00lot to one person because there's always been a message or something I write on
the cards. And it's just more about just… it's a small little bit of good,
sometimes only a $25 gift card to Target. Do you know what I mean? We're not
talking about anything that's going to rebuild somebody's house. But when you
hear of somebody saying, "Man, it's just been a day I've been beat up this whole
time and stuff too, though. I don't know where I'm going to go. I'm at my
wit's end and stuff too though," just something nice in the car, like, "Listen,
I know today was tough, and so was yesterday. But we're all working hard, and
there's people rooting for you. Here's something. Get something you'd like."
And it's always been signed the same way. If you need it, you use it. If you
know somebody that needs it more, pass it on.
And some people have gotten gift cards -- I know they've got nothing but are
still like, "Yeah, but I know somebody that has it even worst for me." And they
like that feeling, I guess, somewhat of like, "Yeah, I have nothing, but I can
give to somebody else," and then they feel good that way.
I think community-wise, the tree was really embraced, and even to a point I know
00:45:00the communities reach out to me, like, "How do you this? How is that going on
there?" I think we realized really early on--I know I did--there's something
pretty powerful about a symbol. People you can ignore or like or dislike or
something too, but just a symbol of just things will be better and it's hope and
it's the communities and things are always added, like a little mystery to it
there, it works out good.
So I think it became like a community spot. Like I said, I couldn't even keep
up with it. At one time with the ornaments, it had to be easy… 300 easy on
the tree, easily, to the point people kept putting them on, I was like, "I don't
know how they find spots to put more." Some of the pictures -- I look back at
the tree before we had to replace it, before it really started taking a
battering, and I was like, "I don't know how people coming can find the spot to
put ornaments there." But I'd see people all the time, and it was funny because
they didn't know who I was, so I'd be there just putting an ornament on or
00:46:00taking pictures and people would come and say, "This is great. We really like
this. Here's our ornament," not knowing I had anything to do with the tree,
just thinking I was somebody else putting an ornament on and wanted to take pictures.
So hearing that it meant a lot to people was really, really cool. But at least
it helped amiss being helpless, you know what I mean? Like with all
[unintelligible - 00: 46: 23] you look at Brook Ave, there's not a single house
standing, like -- physically I'm not capable of rebuilding those houses. I'm
not financially capable of rebuilding those houses and stuff too though, but I
can help boost the community a little bit. We can keep moving forward, keep
things positive as much as we can. And it's turned into some really good,
amazing things for this town. So I think that's probably my biggest
contribution so far. As much as I've done lots of gutting, I've done lots of
mucking, I've done lots of carrying out wet sheet-rock floors, all of that, I
think being involved that way probably has been the biggest contribution to the
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: How do you feel about the responses that you received in the town?
JAMES BUTLER: I felt pretty good. Like I said, I think we got more help than
others. I think we got more attention than others. We definitely got more
media than others. And I have always said and I have very shamelessly gone
after that as much as we can, I will promote things as much as possible with
what's going on if I think it's good. If a newspaper or something wants to
write a nice story about us and stuff too though, I'd tell everybody that'll
listen on Facebook and stuff too. I said, "You go on and you thank them and you
comment." Do you know what I mean? Because the only stories that they keep
talking about now are if it's viral. Does it have legs? Are there enough
people talking about it?
So it's like, you know what? Somebody comes and does something [unintelligible
- 00: 47: 50] and they gave away thousand-dollar gift cards for all the kids
from Memorial, I was like, "You better flood their website, flood their Facebook
page. Thank them mercilessly. Thank them like --" and let other people then
00:48:00see, like wow, you do something good there, these people really appreciate it.
And then it leads to every week there's something else coming up, every week
there's something new coming forward to help. So overall, the response I think
has been really good in the town.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: That's good. Do you feel like New Jersey prepared
adequately by building enough dunes or raising the houses enough?
JAMES BUTLER: No, no. Now I look back at what other communities have done, like
some areas like the Carolinas and stuff too though, I think it's a very
obvious… climate is different. The shore is different. We got away with the
-- for a very long time, being very lucky. This is close to the ocean and stuff
too and you have houses; that's part of the appeal as you're right along the bay
there. But it does leave a vulnerability that I don't think New Jersey was
prepared for. You look at the Army Corps of [Engineers], their plans were
00:49:00shelves in the early '90s for those flood protection plans. And early talk was
what you really need in the area is a flood protection plan that embraces
Keyport, Union Beach, Keansburg, the Highlands into Port Monmouth, like really
-- because if only one town builds it or something too, you're just going to
push the water somewhere else. If Union Beach has a great flood protection plan,
all we do is push the water to Keansburg and Keyport. So it's trying to get
state, even federal money, of doing that kind of plan. It's something that
always got stalled and put in the back burner, and we paid the price for that.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Do you feel like there was anything that New Jersey could
have done differently prior?
JAMES BUTLER: I think a better flood protection plan would obviously have been
good. I don't think we've gotten a good handle on how to handle things nowadays
00:50:00with communication. It's very much like, "Well, people can look it up online,"
or if something's really serious, like they'll come to Borough Hall and stuff
too though. It's very different when you don't have electricity.
Transportation becomes an issue.
So communication in general, do you know what I mean? There are certain things
that people in the community were passing on that really should have come from
the town; that really should have been something more official from the town.
And the town, what do you without power? They couldn't do anything either. So
I think overall in New Jersey, I think communication could have been a lot
better with here's what's coming. Now that it happened, here's what your first
step should be. Now that you've taken the other steps, here's what's next, and
here's how we can recover together. Because in some ways, really, it almost
pitted town versus town. You're almost jockeyed for position and stuff too.
There's a story about Seaside's boardwalk and stuff too, and it's not fair here.
We've got people living here and stuff too. Then people were like, "Oh, Union
Beach, they talk about the half house and they've got all this help. What about
00:51:00us in Keansburg?" Well, Keansburg is like, "Well, yeah and the governor is down
in your boardwalk, and what about --" so kind of pitted there. There wasn't a
unifying New Jersey effort I think to get the word out and then to kind of
support people all along.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Right. Do you think that there was anyone to blame for the
storm, or do you think it was just Mother Nature taking its toll or freak occurrence?
JAMES BUTLER: I think it was very much a serious of unfortunate events. I
really think Mother Nature took its toll. I definitely think years of people
living in this town -- like I said, it was second generation and third
generation, "Yeah, storm warning. Yeah, yeah."
So, part of the warnings out there naturally in this town, we don't heed them.
So that was definitely a contributing factor. You weren't going to sandbag and
stop the water, but maybe the damage to belongings, maybe some people wouldn't
00:52:00have had to swim out of their houses. Some of that stuff could have been avoided.
I didn't understand FEMA before, and I still don't. It seems like -- I think
everybody was kind of waiting for somebody to kind of roll in and just kind of
take charge of this is what needs to be done, this is what's got to go on there.
And that person I guess doesn't exist. It seems like in New Orleans it didn't
happen until that general, I don't know how to say his name was like General
[unintelligible - 00: 52: 39] or something came in and basically occupied the
city of New Orleans, not in a bad way but just like, "Okay, listen. This is
going to be your block. This is going to be your beat. You're going to knock
on every door here. You're going to see how people are. You're going to get
assessment stuff too though. At the end of the day, we're all going to come
back; we're going to report here's what's going to on this block."
I think something like that. I think that's what people think of FEMA or the
00:53:00Red Cross. They kind of almost think of that's what's going to come in in
there. Unfortunately, it's the dark side of people's natures. You hear all of
this stuff; you see this concert raised 30 million. You see if you text in here
for $10, they raise $100 million. You see all this money and none of it comes
to you as a homeowner, it does kind of build a resentment there. So maybe just
a better organization and who that person is. There's not a person to blame,
but if there's a thing to blame, it's that there's not a person. There's not a
disaster czar. There's not a person that, "Okay, everything's gone bad. Let's
get to work. And this is what we've got to do." Now unfortunately we've
learned that doesn't exist anyway--in Oklahoma, in Texas, in all these areas and
stuff too, in what Florida is going to face this hurricane season.
Unfortunately, we do a really good job with aid to other areas and stuff too
though, but maybe not domestically natural disaster. We still don't really have
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Do you feel like the media's coverage was accurate, or was
00:54:00it more so on the sensationalized side?
JAMES BUTLER: I think it was definitely more in the sensationalized side, but
it's tough to say that growing up in Union Beach for the fact that if that half
house doesn't stand as long as it does, I don't know if you have an image that
keeps bringing the media into town. Because you can definitely watch the spike
of media stories while our house was standing and once it came down. It was a
great backdrop for reporters to say, "Here, in Union Beach, and here's the
storms recovery and stuff." If they were talking about Union Beach, it was a
great backdrop for them to do the story in general of the Bayshore area and
stuff too, so it's definitely sensational. Even now, you look at Stronger Than
the Storm and stuff too, that's a business campaign. It's $25 million on
commercials built on come spend your money in New Jersey. And we're very aware.
36, the highway right by us, leads to Sandy Hook. So I'm sure businesses along
the highway, you rely on people wanting to go to the Shore and that traffic and
00:55:00people going down there, but it can be a little tough to stomach those
commercials when you're still not home. So whole thing, like come on down and
take your family to Wildwood and spend your money is kind of tough to swallow
when you don't have a house.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Right, I understand. What do you feel about Christie and
Obama's coming to the town and [unintelligible - 00: 55: 26]?
JAMES BUTLER: I was actually pretty impressed with seeing finally just what I
see is two very, very different sides on politics at least agreeing, "Wow, this
is bad." And we've got to put that stuff aside just because honestly, people
don't want to hear it now. How effective it is, that remains to be seen. There
are lots of people saying -- there were lots of people that met the governor
when he was here in Union Beach, and he was like, "Oh, I'm going to come back
00:56:00for the walk. I'm going to do this. I'm going to check on you. Here's my top
aide's cell phone number. Call when you need anything," and nothing has really
more been done with it there.
So you have to take it with a grain of salt. But I think really as people were
searching for leaders and feeling really lost, I think a lot of people took
reassurance in the fact that at least those two seemed concerned and listen to
people, because I think that's what people wanted to be all along here is like,
stop talking about the houses and showing those images and just get down and
talk to the people. They'll tell you exactly what's going on and where they
are, but enough the rubble and more about the family of four.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Right. Did your opinion of Chris Christie changed?
JAMES BUTLER: I think it did. I think it definitely did, because I think that's
all you can ask in any leader, in any level of government, whether it's our
00:57:00local mayor, whether it's the governor, whether it's president, just that when
things go bad, somebody that's going to say, "I know what party I'm from. I
know what I'm supposed to say. But at the end of the day, I'll work with anyone
that can give me solutions."
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Right, okay. How do you feel about the response that this
area receives compared to other places in the country that might have suffered?
JAMES BUTLER: I think it was good, but I think there is definitely now -- we're
paying a little bit for the mistakes of Katrina, because FEMA came in and
another government agencies came in and Katrina was so bad. It was just like
we've got to get lots of money down there, and then later on they saw lots of
abuse. So I was like, "We're never going to do that again." And I think we're
the first big disaster since of the scale like Katrina, so they're really making
people jump through hoops to get any kind of money. And even then, they don't
00:58:00want to hand me money. They want to say, "Give me your bills, here's your
contract. We'll give the contract your money. We'll give your bank money.
They'll work it out that way."
So they've made it very, very hard for people to get help. So I think part of
it is our response here is based on what happened to Katrina and all of the
money that was lost, wasted there, and we're kind of paying the price. I almost
think the next natural disaster, maybe they'll find the middle ground of saying,
"Okay, we can't give it out as freely as Katrina, but at the same time, you
can't make it so hard for people to get it." There are certain areas that are
funded that [unintelligible - 00: 58: 37] enough people claiming that specific
kind of loan, that specific kind of grant, so.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: The response to the country, the rest of the country
[unintelligible - 00: 58: 52].
JAMES BUTLER: Okay. So going back to Katrina versus -- and stuff too though,
yeah. I think we've been handled based on the issues that Katrina faced in the
00:59:00aid there, even with private donations too and FEMA, I think they've made a lot
of mistakes and there's a lot of abuse, a lot of fraud. And it's almost like
they worked so hard to fix that. They've added layers of red tape that no one's
ever faced before. So it's lot of paperwork, lots of forms, lots of
verification, lots of forms in triplicate that people just first of all, if you
have no house left, I don't know how you're expected to have all that paperwork.
But they've made it very, very difficult. If we have a lot of figures on big
money that's been the federal government is 67 -- like whatever amount that
they've given, okay, this is all the money towards aid, it's very hard to reach
homeowners based on all the levels that are here. So I think they were paying
for some of the mistakes from some of the fraud from other natural disasters
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: All right. Okay. And compared to the storms that you've
01:00:00experienced, how do you notice that the aid has changed?
JAMES BUTLER: The storms before… was weird. Going back, actually, the storm
that I was involved in before in '92, that [unintelligible - 01: 00: 20] just
locally, that would seem like it was much easier to get help. But I don't know.
There were so few of us that were actually affected that lived along the water
there. So the speed of things was much faster. The response for us as a town,
it seems like it was the community groups that did a better job than any
federal, the big ones there, to the point that a lot of people are questioning
those big foundations and those big government agencies that have all this
funding and seems like the help never actually gets to the people themselves and
the homeowners. So, that's been a little tough to stomach.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: How has this shaped your environmental views? Do you think
01:01:00that this shaped it at all and whatever?
JAMES BUTLER: I think if it doesn't change you that way, I think then you're not
paying attention. I think it's obviously the climate of this area has changed,
and I think the storm is -- a result of that now, I think we're past the point
of people trying to decide what caused that but are very aware of it's different
now. It's very different now. We're very susceptible right now. We lost a lot
of sand; we lost a lot of protection. So if a storm half that strength comes in
soon, there are areas that were protected with sand and dunes and stuff too
though that that stuff isn't there anymore. So it's been doing the homework too
of not only needing some kind of protection on the beach but also the right
protection. Dunes on their own don't do anything if you don't have the right
kind of vegetation there with the roots that will actually hold things together.
So I think -- and the big push on the Robin Hood Foundations, some of the homes
01:02:00being built is on greener homes, so at least, yes, we're rebuilding homes, but
let's not build the kind of homes that contribute to some of the same problems
that can cause some the stuff here.
So I think the next version of Union Beach, the Union Beach 2.0 that we're
building now is going to have to be taller and stronger and a little more kinder
to the economy. And there are areas here of -- my old house and stuff too
though, I don't know how illegally you ever built on that, because technically
it should have been wetlands that -- if you've got enough wetlands, it can
absorb some of that water, some waves before it gets to the homeowners. So I
think in hindsight, maybe it's time to take a look at this town and say there
are areas where you kind of give back to the environment, turn it over to mother
nature and just use it as a buffer, and we'll head to higher ground.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Does it make you change any views that you have personally
01:03:00about taking more precautions, any views of political in terms of climate change
and governmental responses?
JAMES BUTLER: I definitely think so. I think it's one where -- as we have
elections coming up and stuff too though, I definitely now am more interested in
what a candidate's views are on that. I'm definitely interested to hear what
they have to say. Because obviously, the whole state needs some kind of shore
protection stuff too though, and for the fact that now you have politicians,
you have a senate seat coming up, you have a gubernatorial election, I think
that becomes an issue more than some of the things before. I think we've kind
of skirted it here in New Jersey a little bit. I don't think that's ever been a
major thing that some congressman, senators, governors that were more in favor
or less in favor, but I don't think that was something that could get somebody elected.
I think that on the Bayshore area, I think that can get somebody elected or not
elected. What's your plan that this doesn't happen again? People are
rebuilding, and it's like how are you going to help me to know build a house up
01:04:0014 feet but with no beach protection. How much good is that going to do you?
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Have things returned back to normal?
JAMES BUTLER: No. But I think it's a new normal. There are people who moved
out that will never be back, so that's sad, but that's the reality. But like I
said, some of the houses will be built taller and stronger and stuff too. This
town won't look the same as it did with me growing up and for other people
remember. In some ways, maybe that's not necessarily bad. We've got lots of
room for improvement, and unfortunately for us, a big part of our town is a
blank slate. You know? It'd be nice as a community if we got involved and
figured out, well, what do when you've got huge lots of land that -- it's sad
that the buildings and the businesses that were there are not there, but at the
same time, we've been given an opportunity for kind of a new normal, kind of set
what Union Beach will be for our kids and the grandkids after that, stuff too though.
So people are still struggling. The end of this month we'll tell
people [unintelligible - 01: 05: 07]. There are grants that are out there that
deadlines are out, that for a lot of people, it's make or break. They get the
grant, they can rebuild. And if they don't, that's it for a lot of people.
We'll realize what the new normal is in about a month.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Right. Do you have any changes to your daily life or any
problems you face in coming [unintelligible - 01: 05: 27] Union Beach?
JAMES BUTLER: Probably the biggest one has been now just this weird social media
connection now with like the [unintelligible - 01: 05: 38] people clinging
stuff too though. I don't think there's a day goes by that I don't wake up and
as I check one of the pages or those inboxes, there's some kind of email or
message there and stuff too though. Sometimes it's just as simple as, "Have you
heard anywhere that's donating air conditioners?" Sometimes it's been you got
turn downed for everything here, my friends tell me we should find a lawyer,
have you heard about lawyer services. Sometimes it's just "I just need to vent
01:06:00and I don't want to tell my husband, I don't want to cause another argument
there, but I'm so worried about things there." But I have a touch of Union
Beach in every single day now.
Before I did just with coaching, and that was it. But now there's a touch of
Union Beach every single day. And I know that's not necessarily a bad thing,
but I'm very aware of what's going on now more than I ever was before.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: The home that you [unintelligible - 01: 06: 29] are you
still making payments on it?
JAMES BUTLER: No, luckily they had -- well, luckily for us, no. They basically
sold the house to my best friend growing up and stuff too though, so he owned
the house at the time. So at least my family wasn't on the hook that way, but I
feel bad because it was one of my best friends who actually did own the home.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: And was he still making payments?
JAMES BUTLER: Yeah, he'd gotten a second mortgage on it and stuff though, so he
was still paying. Yeah.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Have you been now identified as the face of the Hope Tree
01:07:00and the Union Beach Hope page?
JAMES BUTLER: I have and I haven't.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay.
JAMES BUTLER: I have just because Associated Press article came out and you
can't talk to Associated Press. You know what I mean? I tried to keep my name
out of this. I could tell you everything you want, just keep my name out.
Basically, I called my publishing editor. Nothing for nothing. This is
Associated Press, and we can't put something out with unconfirmed sources or
people say or -- you know.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Oh, right, right, right.
JAMES BUTLER: So [unintelligible - 01: 07: 30] put it in, but I don't want it.
Because you see the pettiness of a town sometimes too with people involved.
People react to things based on who they like or they don't like. I liked it
without a face. It was just a tree, it was just there.
So there are articles that have been out there. At the same time, if I ever do
anything publicly, if I say I'm somewhere like I've always made a goof of, I
don't show my face, I don't put pictures of my face in it and stuff too. So
there are people who know I am and some people who don't. And I've heard people
say that they don't want to know.
Yes, so like I was saying, so there's people that know, there are people who
01:08:00don't, and some people who don't want to know. I had a really weird kind of
message that was cool the other day with a big fireworks display here that the
town had won, which was great. I came and saw it. And so he was like, "Oh, I
saw you, but I was scared to come up and say hello and stuff too." I didn't
want to ruin it. I was like, "You can always come and say hello and stuff too
though," but [unintelligible - 01: 08: 26] and then she explained
[unintelligible - 01: 08: 27] was she likes it that it's kind of faceless and
it's not about a person and it's -- that it can be just a thing. It can be just
a symbol; it can be just a place. Like I said, everybody seemed like -- I keep
things positive. I don't badmouth anything. I don't pass on any information
that I haven't gotten two different sources and stuff too. So some people like
to boost up something positive, then they know [unintelligible - 01: 08: 55].
I'm rooting for the town. I really am. But I also know we're not all coming
01:09:00back. You know what I mean? It's just not the reality that every house that
was destroyed will be rebuilt; every family who lived here won't be back.
That's the reality. We could still be positive though and look towards the good
things that are going on.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Right. Do you have any changes to the outlook on the
community on the world as a whole?
JAMES BUTLER: I definitely think so. One thing that's happened to me since the
beginning--and you have to think there's a reason for it--is anytime I've done
something in the town and I've needed something, it presented itself. Anytime I
had like a -- somebody gave me a gift card, and I was like, I don't know what
I'm going to do -- like somebody presented themselves that needed exactly that
kind of gift card and stuff too though. So there has to be something to that.
There has to be something to -- if you just are open to it and just try to be
good and just try to be positive, things will find their way.
Overall, I think the biggest lesson for me from the storm--and I'm glad it's my
01:10:00biggest lesson--was there's so many people that want to help. It was just
overflowing how many people wanted to help and wanted to what can we do and just
tell us something specifically that we can do to help out from all over the
place, all over the country, all over the town, people that lost their whole
homes coming here and dropping off extra clothes that they had that their kids
didn't fit into and stuff like. You can see that, like they're homeless. So
overall, I think it's changed my outlook overall in a good way that there's
really, really good people out there. And I think that the biggest thing to me
now, I hope I'm never involved in any kind of disaster ever again. But if I am,
I know the biggest thing is you can just connect all those amazing people that
want to help and just want to know specifically how with the people that need
01:11:00it, a lot of good things can get done.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Is there anything that you would like to tell your children
or your grandchildren in the future about the storm, about Union Beach?
JAMES BUTLER: Just I think overall it's going to come down to a story of
resilience. And I think it's a very honest thing that's going on here that I
think it's going to help Union Beach that other people aren't getting of, like
bad things absolutely do happen to good people, and there is suffering, and
things are going to happen in your life that you will not like. But, the rest
of your life is kind of defined by your response to that. It's going to happen.
And we talk about sometimes with how kids are coddled and everybody wins and
Well, you know what? That's not reality. I think in a lot of ways, the kids in
01:12:00this town, the families in this town are a little battle-tested now, a little
bit knowing that bad things happen and you can though come out of the other side
of that, and there's good on the other side. So I think overall, we're going to
be all right. It's a tough lesson to learn and a tough way to learn it, but I
think it's valuable.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: And the message of the storm, what would you think that
would be? Or the legacy of the storm?
JAMES BUTLER: I think, it's still, for me, it's always going to come down to
hope. That's a really powerful thing when you see it in action. When you
really see when somebody's got nothing but they're just holding on, that you
know what, I don't know how and I don't know when, but I think things are going
to be better. And that can go a long, long way. There are all kinds of slogans
that get thrown out, like New Jersey and stuff too, and then Union Beach in
general with strong and tough and all that, that's great. But if you don't have
some kind of hope, I feel like with hope, things will be better and stuff too
though. Strong won't get you anywhere, tough won't get you anywhere. You
01:13:00better figure out how to be smart, and you better figure out how to have some
kind of hope to hold on to. Otherwise, it's really easy. They make it very
easy to just give up and throw in the towel. And for a lot of people, there's a
lot of money to be made for people walking away from mortgages and their houses
and stuff too though, so the odds are stacked against them.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Right. Do you have any advice to those who recently
suffered a tragedy?
JAMES BUTLER: I think the first thing that I would say is as hard as it is, you
have to share it. It's tough as it is because there are a lot of people here
that they want people in their homes, that they want people see it like that, so
they turn down help for the fact that they were embarrassed and stuff like that
too though. I think you have to share it a little bit. It doesn't to have be
woe is me, but this is my reality, this is where I am. If you put it out there,
maybe help can come and find you.
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Okay. Did I miss anything that else that you wanted to share?
JAMES BUTLER: Gosh, you're pretty extensive. No, I think it covered a lot
there. No, I think I feel good. I think you've got a good beat for the town
stuff too though. The only thing that I can end with you, honestly, is I am…
at this point, one piece of a 6,000-piece puzzle. You know what I mean? So the
more you that you talk to people and you get their different views and the
different things that happened and stuff too though, it paints more of it. I'm
proud of my contributions, while I wish at the same time I've had never had to
make them. But at least everybody knows too, I'm here long haul. You know what
I mean? I'm still going to be in Union Beach and coaching and my kids and doing
what I can. I think that's at least a little reassuring because there are lots
of areas that came into the beginning that were gone pretty quickly. So I think
01:15:00as long as they know there are people out there that are going to be there till
the end, I think people feel reassured. So I think the more people you talk to,
I think you'll get a fuller story of everything
TRUDI-ANN LAWRENCE: Right. Okay. Thank you, and I'm ending this recording at
JAMES BUTLER: You're welcome. Okay. /AT/rj/es