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Residents Of Storm-Ravaged Union Beach, N.J. Working Hard To Rebuild

UNION BEACH, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- Union Beach remains in such poor shape a month and a half after Superstorm Sandy that some say the cost to rebuild may be just too much.

As CBS 2's Derricke Dennis reported Tuesday, the resilient residents of the town have been working hard to collect donations and rebuild. But hope is hinging on outside help.

Linda Connelly is rehabbing her home by hand. Her living room, walls and kitchen cabinets were all left flooded by Sandy.

The damage totaled $88,000 – a price tag that Connelly said many of her neighbors can't afford. Those neighbors have given up and left.

"It's a ghost town, you know?" Connelly said. "We want people back. We want it back to the way it was."

The storm surge from Sandy left 1,600 of the town's 2,100 homes damaged or destroyed. About six weeks later, the mess remains.

One house was split in half, and the police department was using donated cars from as far away as Wilmington, N.C., after losing 10 of its 12 cruisers in the storm.

"I've lived in this town for 37 years," said Union Beach Fire Chief Rob LaBerta. "This is the worst."

LaBerta has been pleading for material donations – water heaters and other building supplies – after his volunteer fire department was hit with seven feet of flooding.

"Whatever money we can't receive from the town, we get from donations from the townspeople," he said. "That's how we basically survive."

And the call for donations isn't just talk -- it may actually be the solution here. Donated supplies such as drywall could be the difference between a house that can be rebuilt, or one that's too expensive to fix.

Carl Williamson runs the Union Beach Donations Relief Center, which is stocked with canned goods, blankets and diapers for residents only. The average annual income in town is just above $65,000.

"We still need, we need people to bring in money so that we can give it to the families so that they can rebuild; so that this town can get back," Williamson said.

But there is hope. A makeshift Christmas tree was recently erected, and serves as a place for neighbors such as Mary Mancini and her daughter to reflect and find strength.

"The rebuilding of Union Beach -- we're going come back bigger and better than we ever were before," Mancini said.

Union Beach officials have not put a price tag on all the damage from Sandy, but they said the level of destruction is staggering and restoration could take years.

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