‘You could see your breath,’ displaced resident says
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 was 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 superstorm Sandy approached last week, Sotelo was part of a contingent shifted on Wednesday to this makeshift 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.
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