Wildwood residents lose home after Sandy

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WILDWOOD – Crystal Robinson, a 27-year-old mother of three, lost everything to Hurricane Sandy when water destroyed her possessions and much of their home.

She still considers herself lucky.

“It’s incredibly difficult,” she said. “But my kids are OK, my fiancé is OK and my family is OK. We’re all breathing, we’re healthy and we’re together.”

Robinson, who grew up in Wildwood, always wanted to live on the island and raise her family there.

“I loved it,” she said of Wildwood. “Even when my parents moved to North Cape May, I knew I wanted to stay.”

She and her fiancé James Hutchinson rented a three-bedroom bungalow style house in the 300 block of West Wildwood. It was a perfect place for Robinson to raise her 9-year-old, 6 year-old and 15-month-old children.

“We painted the rooms, put work into it and really made it ours,” she said. “It might have been someone else’s property, but to us it was home.”

Having grown up in the area, Robinson knew the island’s history with storms and flooding and which neighborhoods would be prone to water issues.

“This wasn’t one of those places,” she said. “I knew that it never flooded in that area. I talked to neighbors who have been there forever and they never once saw flooding. It just wasn’t something we were ever expecting.”

But that was before Sandy.

Robinson and her family decided to weather the storm at her mother and father’s home in North Cape May. They left with three days of clothes and a few personal items.

“We knew it was going to be serious, but I don’t think any of us knew exactly how bad,” she said.

As the storm approached and the reports of destruction got worse, Robinson kept checking Facebook and news sites for any information on how Wildwood, and her home was faring. During the height of the storm, even when the power was out, Robinson kept charging her phone to keep an eye on things. In retrospect, she said, she wished she could have turned it off.

“What I saw was horrible,” she said. “Water was everywhere; people were being rescued in row boats.

“I had a knot in my stomach. I was physically ill the entire time because I was so afraid of what I was going to find,” she added.

When she, her fiancé and mother Lorraine were allowed back to Wildwood, her worst fears were realized.

“I knew. I just knew as soon as we started walking up the driveway,” she said.

Robinson said she saw all sorts of trash and debris around the yard and up against the house. Her mother pointed out the water line on the house.

“As soon as I saw how high that water line was, I didn’t want to go inside the house. I knew what we’d find,” she said.

Robinson said she remembers staring at all the mulch that was washed up along her house and then crying in the middle of her soggy living room.

Water had gotten as high as three feet in some places, she said.

“The floor was carpet so that was like a giant sponge. The couches and furniture were soaked, appliances were fried and all the clothes were just ruined,” Robinson said. “Things from one room had drifted into another. A can of pink paint that we had used had tipped over and was everywhere. It was just like walking into a terrible nightmare.”

Robinson said that while she tried to take everything in, her fiancé and mother desperately tried to do what they could to help.

“My mom went into mom-mode and started cleaning things. My fiancé got on the phone and started calling our landlord, our friends, family members, anyone who could help,” she said.

After a while, Robinson said, they returned to her parent’s home in North Cape May.

“I didn’t have a lot,” Robinson said of her home and possessions. “But what I did had I worked so hard for.”

After returning to her parent’s house, Robinson said she updated friends and family on the situation. But instead of focusing on her personal loss, she decided to look at the silver lining.

“We were all OK and that really is all that matters,” she said. “In other parts of the state people are even worse off. They don’t have a parent’s house to go to. They don’t have anything.”

Her kids, she said, think they are on an extended sleepover.

“They are happy they get to spend more time with their grandparents,” Robinson added.

It hasn’t all been easy, she said. Her 6-year-old daughter was upset that she couldn’t throw away pajamas that had a hole in them and get a new pair.

“She’s a little fashionista. She loves clothes and she was upset that she couldn’t just get a new pair of pajamas,” she said. “It was hard to explain to her that those pajamas were one of her only pairs.”

Running errands has also gotten difficult because her 15-month-old’s stroller was also lost in the storm.

“It’s things you just don’t think of,” she said.

If there was any good that has come from Sandy, Robinson said, it has been the kindness of friends and strangers.

John Lynch, whose Lunch with Lynch foundation was helping organize a gift card fundraiser for victims of the storm and a donation drive at the North Wildwood 15th Street firehouse, heard about Robinson and her family’s difficulty.

Robinson said that thanks to Lynch she was able to get some much needed help and clean clothes and toys for her kids.

Lynch, she said, was like her guardian angel.

“I don’t even know him. I just knew of him because of the work he did at the elementary school,” she said. “For him to help me, and I was just a stranger to him, that just speaks volumes as to how the community has come together.”

She said she hopes more people will follow his lead and volunteer, donate or do what they can for those who were just unlucky when Sandy came to town.

“Even with all that’s happened, I still feel like I don’t deserve the help. That there has to be someone who could use something more than me,” she said.

Robinson said that she works the night shift at Wal-Mart and is hoping to forgo her daytime sleep to volunteer some hours at the 15th Street firehouse.

She said is planning on finding a new place to live in Cape May County, so she can remain close to her family and keep her job. But despite her love of the Wildwoods, Robinson said that she doesn’t know if she can live on Five-Mile Island or any barrier island again.

“I definitely have a fear that something like this is going to happen again and just wipe away everything I’ve worked for,” she said. “How can I go back?”

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