The Martens will soon move — before Christmas, they hope — to a rental home in their old neighborhood that has room for all of them. And then they'll set about the task of rebuilding the place they called their dream home.
But Mullaney isn't as certain that she'll return to devastated Breezy Point, the summery shorefront place she has loved all her life.
While her husband navigates the insurance paperwork, she cares for her daughter and 10-month-old twins and tries to make sense of their new reality.
"Do we sell what we can and go somewhere else? Or do we stay in Breezy and rent until we can rebuild?" she wondered. "We're just not sure."
— By Meghan Barr.
At their Norwalk, Conn., beachfront cottage, Ben and Kim Cesare reflect wearily on how, in one year, they have become experts in disaster and recovery.
Badly flooded after tropical storm Irene, they had just finished rebuilding, when Sandy crashed through their modest two-story home, flooding the basement and first floor, tearing out newly installed windows and doors, shifting walls and dumping gigantic slabs of concrete sea wall onto their backyard.
"Irene took more than six months out of my life," said Ben, 49, who lost his marketing job during the recession and oversaw most of the repairs himself. "We have no idea how long this recovery will take."
Kim, 48, who works in financial services in New York, grew up in this house on Harbor View, with its sweeping views of Peck's Ledge lighthouse and Long Island Sound. Ben grew up nearby.
They love the close-knit community of about 100 homes, many of them charming cottages dating to the early 1900s, where everyone knows everyone and "high tide Friday" socials at the clubhouse (where the couple were married in 1994) are a staple of summer. They can't imagine raising their 5-year-old son, Matt, anywhere else.
"The whole reason we stayed in this house was to preserve it for the family," Ben said on a recent frigid morning as he surveyed the darkened shell of his first floor while waiting for yet another visit from a building inspector.
But disasters are taking their toll.
The 1908 house belongs to Kim's mother, Barbara Borden, who splits her time between Florida and Connecticut. Before the storm, the couple had intended buying it from her. They own a house across the road, which they rent out, and which was one of the few houses in the community not damaged by Sandy.
Now, all plans are on hold as they rent a house nearby and try to figure out their future. Do they stay in Kim's childhood home and raise and reinforce it, or move into their own home? Do they even want to live as close to the water anymore?
"There are a lot of complicated family discussions we need to have," Kim says.
In a strange way, they say, it helps that they are not alone. Many neighboring homes were badly damaged too, and the neighborhood is still jammed with Dumpsters and cleanup crews amid the boarded-up houses. In the first week, the Red Cross swept in with buckets and mops, firefighters brought food, and a busload of volunteers from a church in Tennessee mucked out homes. Neighbors whose homes were spared cooked hot dinners for those whose homes were flooded.
The goodwill goes a long way in persuading the Cesares to stay.
But questions persist — about costs, security and whether, as some suggest, massive coastal flooding has become the new normal.
Ben, for one, can't bear the thought of another year of "living in a permanent state of reconstruction," as he navigates insurance claims and small business loans and FEMA assistance.
"I'm incredibly attached to this place, and when I'm here with Al the electrician and Dan the plumber and it's all activity, I feel I'm making progress," he said.
But when they leave, and he is alone in his dark and damaged house with his doubts about the future, "I confess I look around and feel pretty depressed."