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Environment

Abandoning A Floodzone

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

As climate change reshapes our environment and our coastlines, it can threaten the very ground we live on. In our ongoing series, we are looking at how it's forced some people to adapt. And many might end up having to make the kind of decision Fran O'Connor made. She and her husband moved to Sayreville, N.J., in the mid-1990s.

FRAN O'CONNOR: We moved into what we thought was the house of our dreams. It was really a wonderful neighborhood and a great place to raise your family.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Her two sons grew up there in their split-level home near the Raritan River. For years, they had occasional flooding.

O'CONNOR: But nothing that ever was hazardous in any way or that we were fearful of up until 2010.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Around dinnertime on a Saturday that March, water started rushing into their home.

O'CONNOR: It was coming in the front door, and it was coming in the back door, and it was coming up the basement steps. And we were rushing around just trying to save everything that we could, but we quickly realized that we were very helpless, and we just had to go up to the second level.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: After a sleepless night, they came downstairs to find everything they owned destroyed, including their two cars. O'Connor says she and her neighbors banded together and petitioned the government for flood protection, and they then repaired their homes. But less than a year later, Hurricane Irene destroyed everything they owned, so they took out a second mortgage and decided to regroup and rebuild again.

O'CONNOR: And as hard as we worked to try to save our neighborhood, Hurricane Sandy hit just one year later, and we ran out of time.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That third storm was the final straw.

O'CONNOR: We were very much in debt and in financial despair, and we were homeless.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So she and most of her neighbors took buyouts on their properties through a New Jersey program called Blue Acres. They left their homes to be demolished and turned into open land.

O'CONNOR: It was like a funeral. And we watched the wrecking ball just smash into our house. And each time it hit the house, it hit your heart because this was your home.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They now live in a new home a few miles away in Old Bridge, N.J.

O'CONNOR: It is an extremely difficult decision to make because it's emotional and sad. But sometimes, the only alternative is to move on to safety. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.