In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and the nor’easter that followed, millions of New Yorkers began to pick up the pieces and resume their lives, a difficult task that brought communities together, not only in the Northeast, but across the country as well. As the full scope of the damage is finally being realized and the lights are coming on for the last few communities still without power, some families, including one here at Vanderbilt, are faced with recovering from losses that can’t be rebuilt, re-bought or repaired.
Brad Moyer, assistant manager at Rand Dining Center, is currently in New York helping his wife Jo Ann — a chef at Firefly Grille in Green Hills — and her family recover from two such losses. Brad — originally from Pennsylvania — married his wife — a Staten Island native — in Nashville in 2006 during the CMA Music Festival after meeting in Pennsylvania in 2003. Despite having few family ties to Nashville, the couple has enthusiastically embraced all that the city has to offer. The two are both huge music fans, benefiting from Nashville’s legendary music scene, and Brad attests that he has sat in every section in Bridgestone arena, for Predators games and concerts alike. “Nashville is more than just a city to me,” said Brad. “It’s the second love of my life … after my wife of course.”
Before Hurricane Sandy, Jo Ann’s father George Dresch, mother Patricia and sister Angela decided to ride out the storm in their home, memories of the last hurricane to hit New York fresh in their minds. Brad remembers his wife talking to her family the night before the storm, debating on whether or not to evacuate before landfall. Last year during Hurricane Irene, the Dresch family followed evacuation orders, only to have their home left untouched by the storm but raided and robbed during their absence. This time they decided to stick it out, and as low tide crept up to their front steps, it appeared the flood damage would be minimal, mostly limited to the first floor of their Staten Island home. However, later that night, Brad’s brother in-law received a call from Patricia Dresch, reporting that the hand-built extension on the back of the house had been “ripped off” by the wind and the waves, and that the family was heading to the second floor of the house as the water level continued to rise. This was the last time the family would communicate until the havoc the storm had wrought became fully and tragically apparent.
As the water level approached 20 feet high and crept up to the necks of the Dresch family stranded on the top floor of their house, the building and the roof gave way, knocking Angela Dresch unconscious, and sweeping both her and George Dresch away from Patricia. Jo Ann’s uncle Gerard Spero remembers calling 911 to no avail, as the lines in New York stood clogged with countless other emergencies that night. He finally was able to get through around 8:30 p.m., but Patricia Dresch, barely alive and barely conscious, was found by emergency workers close to midnight with a body temperature of 81 degrees. The next morning, Angela Dresch, 13, was found dead over a block away, and her father George, 55, was found dead the following day.
Brad and Jo Ann are currently planning and attending the funerals of Angela and George, all while helping Jo Ann’s mother recover from what looked like the brink of death. She was released from the hospital just last Wednesday, but is making a recovery in “leaps and bounds,” and is almost independent after being in the hospital for over a week. Brad and Jo Ann are no strangers to the effects of natural disasters: the couple’s home here in Nashville was devastated in 2010 when the Cumberland River crested at over 50 feet and damaged huge swaths of land and property from downtown outward.
“We lost 80 percent of what we owned,” recounted Brad. “Vanderbilt was awesome to us. They gave everyone two weeks of free vacation time, and set up a fund to help out the staff families that had been affected. It was a blessing.”
However, this also means that they are also no strangers to the recovery process. It took Brad and Jo Ann three months to repair their house to the point at which it was livable, and the full extent of the repairs was just finished this past summer. And just like last time, they’re having some help from the community around them as well. The family’s friends here in Nashville, which Brad referred to as an “extended family,” helped the Moyers in getting up to Staten Island on short notice, and Brad thanked campus dining “for being wonderfully supportive, understanding and just generally amazing.”
Many have inquired about the opportunity to donate to help Jo Ann’s mother rebuild her life and to help pay for the double funeral; accordingly, a fund has been set up in Staten Island for just that purpose. Donations can be sent to the “Dresch Family Fund” in the care of TD Bank at 126 Page Avenue, Staten Island, New York, 10309, and a fundraiser will be held in Nashville on Nov. 18 at the Greenhouse in Green Hills from 6 to 10 p.m. with music, food and drinks.