"I know that a lot of folks that flooded did not have insurance," Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Friday. "That's one of the primary factors we look at when we provide federal grants, is the lack of insurance."
FEMA's disaster relief fund currently has $3.6 billion, and some members of Congress have called for additional allocations to help Sandy's victims.
"FEMA may have enough on reserve to start the process of recovery," Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.) said Friday as he introduced legislation to provide $12 billion in emergency disaster relief funds. "But it's evident from scale of destruction that this will be a costly, perhaps unprecedented, recovery across as many as two dozen states. New York state alone is requesting $6 billion in federal aid."
Rebuilding on the Shore and other areas hit by Sandy has begun and will accelerate as more owners are permitted to return to their homes and businesses.
Housing starts typically peak about three months after a natural disaster strikes, according to Moody's Analytics of West Chester. That may be delayed in the case of Sandy, because of the onset of winter.
The pace of recovery will vary widely, experts said.
Some coastal areas may take longer to rebuild because the very land has washed away. And Shore recovery could be constrained by the supply of building materials.
The first centers
In the first days after the storm, FEMA has handed out $19 million to victims, mostly to pay for temporary housing. About $11 million of that has gone to New Jersey residents.
Rep. Jon Runyan (R., N.J.) said Friday that he was seeking a federal disaster declaration for Burlington County to make residents and businesses there also eligible for aid.
FEMA is beginning to establish the first disaster recovery centers, where storm victims can apply in person for aid. The first two in New Jersey were set up in Brick Township in northern Ocean County and in Cape May Court House.
Although Gov. Christie assured residents that FEMA would get to applicants' houses within 48 hours, the FEMA representatives made no such assurances to the storm victims seeking help in Brick.
Chris Schoefer, 41, of Brick, who was there with her dog Calpernia, had flood insurance that didn't cover the contents of the house. The FEMA representative told her he "can't do anything unless our insurance adjuster comes out, but our insurance adjuster is not coming out for at least eight to ten days," she said.
"They don't get it because they don't have mold growing in their house and dead fish in their yard," she said.
Max Gresham of Brigantine is one of 85,000 people who has applied for FEMA assistance by phone or on the Internet, and he worried that his homeowner's insurance won't cover all of the damage to his house and garage. His insurance deductible means the first $12,000 in costs will come directly out of his pocket, he said.
The ceilings are sagging from water damage in Dee Brown's Brigantine house, and her car is ruined. But she's most concerned about her husband's commercial crabbing business as hundreds of his traps washed away in the storm.
Brown said she may have to take out a loan to defray those costs. She contacted her insurance company but hadn't heard back yet.
"There's so much money out in that bay that we'll never see again," she said.
Donna Vanzant, who owns the nearby North Point Marina, got a hug from President Obama when he and Christie toured the devastated Shore on Wednesday. Now, she's hoping for something more substantial.
As she waded through the debris of her marina, she tried to calculate costs in her head: $6,500 for a machine to clean fuel tanks, $900 for a new compressor for the marina's hydraulic trailer, $40,000 for a new bulkhead, which washed away in the storm.
She said there's no insurance available for items such as the vanished bulkhead and the splintered docks. Like many of her neighbors, she already has contacted FEMA.
At their Brigantine summer house, the descendants of Frank and Marion Bratek converged on the place that was "Pop-Pop's legacy" to them. When they saw the damage to the cozy, three-bedroom Cape Cod, they cried, laughed, and, for the next four hours, worked.
The water level in the house had been four feet. Furniture and floor were saturated; back deck detached; roof wet and about to cave in.
"It's a total loss," said granddaughter Sharon Thompson, in tears. "And we have no flood insurance."
For Sharon's mother, Diane Thompson, the loss was bittersweet. She and her brother Bob Bratek, co-owners of the home after inheriting it from their parents, had only recently decided to sell because they could no longer afford $12,000 in annual property taxes.
The current asking price was $599,000, and the money would be an inheritance for the siblings, both currently living on Social Security.
Christie said last week that the losses from Sandy were incalculable. In fact, an entire insurance and financial industry is dedicated to calculating just such costs.
And those economists predict that while Sandy will likely rank among the five costliest storms in U.S. history, it probably won't hamper economic growth nationwide. That's been true for previous disasters, except for Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the 9/11 terror attacks of 2001.
Katrina was the costliest hurricane in American history, with insured losses of $46.6 billion (adjusted for inflation), according to a unit of Verisk Analytics. And government aid for Katrina victims was an additional $122.1 billion, according to Moody's Analytics.
Because flooding caused much of Sandy's damage and therefore isn't covered by standard homeowners policies, experts predict that insurance will cover relatively little of the damage.
And with payouts from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) capped at $250,000 for property damage and $100,000 for damage to the contents, flood insurance likely will not fully cover the loss for homeowners in the relatively affluent Northeast.
Six of the 13 states affected by Sandy account for 20 percent of the nation's $15.8 trillion in nominal gross domestic product. That's why economic losses associated with this hurricane are expected to be so large.
Hurricane Irene, which hit the Northeast last year, left total economic losses of about $16 billion, of which about $4.3 billion were insured, according to the Insurance Services Office and the National Hurricane Center.
Moody's Analytics' review of Sandy's impact estimated lost economic output would total $19.9 billion for the region.
In Ocean City, lost economic output was a very real phenomenon last week.
As piped-in Christmas carols dueled with the din of portable generators and wet-vacs along Asbury Avenue, ruined merchandise piled up at curbside, along with wet carpets, flooring, and drywall.
Instead of making holiday sales, merchants were cleaning up three feet of water and muck and checking air-conditioning and electrical and plumbing systems for saltwater damage.
Julie Gannon, owner of Gabrielle & Co., an upscale women's boutique, said she and other shop owners were trying to get their stores up and running as quickly as possible.
"I feel grateful it wasn't worse, though," she said. "We just lost some carpet. I think everybody is anxious to open up again, get back to work."
"It's such a shame for all of us," said Rosalyn Lifshin, owner of Sun Rose Words & Music. "We've all been cleaning up all week, with a long way to go. But the upside is that it has created such a sense of community here."
Mayor Jay Gillian said some businesses had begun filing the paperwork for low-interest recovery loans through the federal Small Business Administration.
"People are going to need a lot of help . . . and we will be there to help them with applying for SBA loans and anything else they need," Gillian said. "We need to band together right now as a town."
Not all economic activity ceased in the Northeast, said chief economist Mark Zandi, and some industries, such as manufacturers, will be able to make up for lost production by increasing capacity and working overtime.
In addition to the lost economic output, Moody's Analytics estimated $11 billion in damage to households, including $500 million in vehicle damage; $10 billion to businesses; and $9 billion to infrastructure, including bridges and subways in New York.
Daniel Aldrich, a Purdue University professor who studied recovery efforts after Katrina and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011, said close-knit communities recover more quickly and successfully.
Aldrich recommends that, before rebuilding, communities hold meetings to confer not only about their own homes but the broader area.
"Disasters are tragic," he said, "but they can also provide local residents with a 'fresh start' in their planning and in their visions of their homes and communities."
Contact Mike Armstrong
at 215-854-2980 or email@example.com
Staff writers Jacqueline L. Urgo and Jonathan Tamari and photographer April Saul contributed to this article.