SOUTH RIVER - As demolition begins on Sandy-damaged homes in South River, one man returned to watch the official end of an era in his life.
Ariel Torres' home is one of dozens on Freeman Street that will come down. Torres had to face tragedy twice the day the superstorm blew through. He also lost his wife.
On the day of the storm, his wife of 43 years was in the hospital with complications from a stroke.
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"I came here, everything was a disaster," Torres says. "Destroyed everything. I go back to the hospital and my wife died in my arms."
The home was later bought out by the state under the Blue Acres program.
Torres says his house was worth more than $300,000. Under the buyout, he received $220,00, but after payments to the bank he was left with much less than that.
Between Sayreville and South River, 132 homes have been bought by the program and over 1,000 more across the state have either accepted offers or been approved.
Torres says he needed to watch his house come down, comparing it to losing a family member and needing to be at the burial. "This is a part of me," he says.
Once the homes are cleared, the land will become open space and a buffer against future storms and flooding.