POINT PLEASANT, N.J. -- The woman was standing in front of her waterlogged ranch house with the man from FEMA when he told her the bad news, probably the worst a mother of two could hear after a storm sends 4 feet of water into her living room.
This house is unlivable, he said. The odor alone is unlivable.
Then he left.
Lori Rebimbas, 41, walked into her cul de sac on Riviera Court late Thursday and asked her neighbor, a widow whose home also flooded but who has a second story to retreat to, what she should do.
"We need help," Rebimbas said, eyes wide.
Then she wept.
Rebimbas' car was flooded, destroyed by the storm.
Her husband won't get paid unless he gets back to work for a local power company repairing storm damage.
She has two boys, a 13-year-old and a 9-year-old with special needs. The older, Christopher, is helping his father outside. The younger, Nicholas, is at a neighbor's.
Rebimbas goes back inside to review the damage, a worn purse under her arm. She is wearing an oversized sweatshirt that makes her seem even more fragile, her bobbed hair limp around her face.
She steps through her storm-shattered front door. Next to it is a 6-inch-deep pile of glass.
Her first thought: "The looters are going to come."
Her second: "My kids don't even have shoes."
She moves on.
In the living room, she lights a candle, illuminating furniture that looks as if it went through a washing machine--sofa, chairs and tables all churned and turned askew.
Her bedroom carpet squishes underfoot.
"I open my dresser drawers and--the smell of decay," she says.
Christopher's room still has an Eli Manning poster on the wall as well as dolphin stencils, a fishing net and a life preserver that says, "Welcome aboard."
"They have no backpacks, nothing," she says, her voice becoming shrill.
What the boys do have is questions, especially Nicholas.
"He said, ‘Do you think Santa will bring me my toys back?’"
And what about Thanksgiving? Christopher asks. Mom, what about Thanksgiving?
"I need a home," she says. But what she really wants is this home back again, the one with the shelf of framed family photos above the fireplace, the big polished wood dining room table and the kitchen overlooking the water. She does not have much hope that FEMA will get it back.
Maybe she can save the photos, she thinks. But where will she put them? They are staying with friends, borrowing a neighbor's car, living a temporary existence, the opposite of the life she built for her boys.
"They need to have a pillow they know is their pillow and to be able to know where their bathroom is," she says as she walks the familiar route from bedroom to bathroom.
Squish, squish, goes the carpet.
The FEMA representative told her he just reports the damage; he doesn't decide how much help she gets.
She worries that he assumes she's wealthy because she lives on the water.
She worries she got gouged on a rental car, $288 this week for a sedan with an expired sticker, broken windshield wipers, no gas and no hubcaps.
Hubcaps don't matter, her husband told her. But somehow when you lose everything, they do.
She could really use a hot meal.
That's where they will go: They will take the kids to find dinner.
Her husband has stepped inside. They are gathering family documents--where are the birth certificates, she wonders?
"I just want a home," she says again, and turns to her eldest. "You want a home, right, baby?"
Christopher turns away, hiding his tears. He is not doing well. Not well at all.
The street is pitch black, still without power, the only light the occasional police cruiser. As they head for the door, she starts to remind her husband to lock up. She laughs in that shrill, scared voice she is starting to use a lot.
Then she leads her family through the shattered front door and into the darkness.