Brookdale professor Debbie Mura reads from her new book on superstorm Sandy. Jerry Carino, @njhoopshaven

In the throes of superstorm Sandy, Debbie Mura noticed there was a foot of water in the garage of her Toms River home. She, her husband Bob and their two teenage children moved their bicycles onto the slightly elevated main floor of their modified Cape Cod, hoping to salvage them.

Then she returned to the garage to grab something else.

“By then water was two feet high,” Mura said.

Thus began a two-year odyssey, one that played out up and down the Jersey Shore. Debbie and Bob returned the next day, wading through chest-high water to find their home flooded from nearby Silver Bay Harbor.

“People were just crying in the street,” she recalled.

RELATED:Murphy redirects $100M in aid to Sandy victims

The nightmare was just beginning. As the Mura family moved into the basement of her sister’s nearby home, the red tape stared piling up like a second storm. Dealing with the insurance agency, the government bureaucracy, the contractors — it was never-ending, and it landed her in therapy.

“In the spring of 2013 I was suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) when I decided to write about it,” Mura said.

The result is “Stronger than the Storm,” a 400-page novel that looks at the brutal slog of Sandy recovery from a teenager’s point of view. Mura, a communication professor at Brookdale Community College, is donating all proceeds from book sales to The Peoples Pantry in Toms River and Brookdale’s “Helping Hands” pantry for students in need.

“I’m very grateful and very moved,” Peoples Pantry executive director Pat Donaghue said. “We always need the money God knows, but it’s also so cathartic for everyone who has been going through this. Because people are still knee-deep in disaster recovery, and the kids are the ones who get hit the hardest.”

Mura read from the novel Wednesday at Brookdale’s Visiting Writers Series. Another reading is slated for Friday, 7 p.m. as part of the Brookdale Writers Read event at the Monmouth County Art Alliance Gallery in Red Bank.

WATCH: Mura reads an excerpt in the video atop this story. 

“The real story is not what happened during the storm,” Mura told Wednesday’s crowd. “It’s what happened in the days and weeks and months after the storm.”

Her book focuses on a group of Ocean County high schoolers growing up in the aftermath of Sandy. Although fictional, the account draws heavily on Mura’s experience as a mom and a teacher.

“I focused on teenagers because I really felt they got lost in this process,” she said. “As a parent you take on this second full-time job of the (Sandy-related) paperwork and restoring your home, and they get lost. I’ve heard their stories.”

She recalled one Brookdale student from Union Beach whose house got demolished but whose basketball hoop remained upright in the driveway. He continued to visit the property and shoot baskets, just to retain a sense of normalcy.

“A friend of mine has a son who is a little younger than the characters in the book; he feels he didn’t have a childhood,” due to the storm’s aftermath, Mura said. “It was taken away from him.”

So this book is for them — and the food pantries that came to the rescue. The Peoples Pantry, which the Mura family and many others leaned on, is included in the novel.

“Our financial picture is grim and it always will be, because we’re a small pop-up,” said Donaghue, whose nonprofit founded in the immediate aftermath of Sandy is still serving 4,000 people each month. “There are people still suffering from this seven years later.”

She read “Stronger Than the Storm” and passed around copies to her volunteers.


Get the Breaking News newsletter delivered to your inbox

We’re sorry, but something went wrong

Please try again soon, or contact Customer Service at 1-800-822-9779.

Delivery: Varies

Invalid email address

Thank you! You’re almost signed up for Breaking News

Keep an eye out for an email to confirm your newsletter registration.

“I’m sure it will help,” Donaghue said. “It helps others realize that what they’ve gone through, they’re not alone.”


Show Thumbnails

Show Captions

“Stronger Than the Storm” is available through Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions, at the Scroll and Pen Bookstore at Brookdale Community College and at the Silverton Pharmacy in Toms River. For more information, visit

Staff writer Jerry Carino:

Read or Share this story: