There was no day off for Millburn residents trying to dry out and clean up on Labor Day, taking inventory of their losses and stock of what they have left.
Homeowners spent the day shoveling, cutting away drywall, sweeping, bleaching moldy tchotchkes and trying to salvage years of memories on damp photographs.
Donna Oliger’s basement had been filled with antiques and furniture that held sentimental value because much of it belong to her mother-in-law, who died recently.
“We lost two generations of stuff,” she said.
She did manage to clean the black gunk off her mother-in-law’s Stickley rocker and move it upstairs, but the antique trunks were lost.
“My husband didn’t want to part with his mother’s things,” she said, but they had been in Las Vegas visiting their son when floodwaters during Irene tossed the furniture in their basement like a salad.
On Labor Day, while her husband worked on furniture and motorcycles that had once been under a week earlier, Oliger was busy cleaning the action figures her sons had collected as boys and pictures taken through the decades.
“We are methodically taking this one day at a time,” she said. “I have my projects and he has his.”
It seems like such a never ending task, that Oliger said she planned to spend Sunday night with her mother so she would stop working long enough to get some sleep before getting up and getting back to teaching kindergarten in Bayonne in the morning.
“If I stay here, I’ll keep going until I drop,” she said.
Around the corner, Alan Inwood, a lawyer, took a break from clean-up to work on a case that’s coming up for trial soon.
“Working keeps me occupied,” said Inwood, who lives on Gilbert Place, where the town's flood walls end. “I don’t want to think about this.”
On the morning of the storm, the water flowed over the top of the wall and rushed around the end of it, filling Inwood’s yard from two directions.
“I was surrounded on two sides – my house was an island,” he said. "I was here during Floyd, but I've never seen anything like this."
Even with a two sump pumps, a French drain and dry well he had more than two feet of water in the basement. The water rose so fast and bubbled up through the toilets and sewer system that the drain and pumps couldn’t keep up, he said.
On Labor Day, he was waiting for an agent from FEMA to stop by to take a look at the damage. He used to have flood coverage through FEMA but it ran out in February and no one told him, he said.
Crews have cut away the drywall in several rooms of the basement, ripped up all the carpet and hauled away the ruined furniture and electronics.
Residents in this area, where Millburn meets the East Branch of the Rahway River, say the water rose so high and so fast they had no time to move things to higher ground.
The Zaig family of five on Ridgewood was rescued from by firefighters who used a boat to get to retrieve them.
“They had to come get us when we realized the water wasn’t going down,” said Ingrid Zaig, who was only able to return to her home after several days.
Ingrid and Shlomo Zaig said they have flood insurance, but it doesn’t seem to be worth much. The assessment was so low, she said, she didn’t know any contractor who would do the work for so little.
“The person who came out was from Oklahoma and maybe these things cost less there,” she said. “We don’t expect to get the full amount but something close to the value would be nice.”
One woman who has lived in the neighborhood since 1950 said it used to flood all the time and she remembers her brother swimming in their friends’ basements when it would flood.
“Since then they’ve made improvements and it’s now it doesn’t happen as often,” she said, refusing to give her name.
Residents want some answers regarding the walls and how it was that water poured into their neighborhood so quickly, especially after the township made improvements that were supposed to prevent this kind of flooding.
They plan to be at Town Hall Tuesday night to request a special meeting to talk the damage, how it happened and what to do about it.