LITTLE FERRY, N.J. – The lives of the residents of Lamker Court lie in heaps on lawns and curbs.
A stuffed Shrek doll sits atop a dining room chair. A gas stove rests in a driveway, a washer and dryer nearby. A computer monitor is wedged against a recliner. White couch cushions are piled high. Red and green Monopoly houses form a trail down the street.
"All I have downstairs is heat," said Loretta Cirillo, 81, whose power was turned back on Saturday. "Everything else is on the front lawn."
The streets of Little Ferry, a borough of 10,000 people about 7 miles from Manhattan, are lined with black trash bags and once-prized possessions destroyed by a swell of water from Superstorm Sandy that rushed into town late on Oct. 29. Dressers, rugs and children's toys sit outside, ready to be carted away. Neighborhoods smell like must. The hum of pumps fills the air as people try to suck out water that still sits in houses.
Like the neighboring towns of Carlstadt and Moonachie, also near the Hackensack River, Little Ferry was devastated when six dirt berms broke from the pressure of a tidal surge, sending water rushing into the towns. The water rose five feet in 45 minutes, officials said.
"It was the worst sound you could ever imagine," said Little Ferry Mayor Mauro Raguseo. "Just water rushing in from everywhere."
The water also went into Lamker Court.
It's a place Raguseo knows well. He and his wife moved in to a home earlier this year on the horseshoe-shaped street filled with neat, split-level houses built in the 1960s.
"My life is on the curb, ready to be picked up by a garbage truck," Raguseo said. "I haven't even had the chance to mourn the loss of my house. Everything I own. I have to be here for the people of my community."
Many residents have lived on Lamker Court for decades after moving out of New York City and into the epitome of the American dream: houses with yards on a quiet street where kids played cops and robbers after school.
But there's one thing that long-time residents have never seen: water in a house on Lamker Court.
"Never. Never. We've been here almost 40 years and not a drop in our house," said Lola Palmerini, 79.
Palmerini was at home with her husband, Silvano, and son, Cory, when the waters rushed into their yellow aluminum-sided home. Cory was sitting downstairs, reading "The Count of Monte Cristo," when he heard a gurgling. Water started pouring into the house. It swirled up about three feet, destroying the first floor. The family huddled on the second floor. Lola and Silvano were rescued by the National Guard.
"When is it going to end, this bad dream?" Lola Palmerini said, fighting back tears. She tries to hide her emotions from her husband, who is sick and requires kidney dialysis. "It's a bad dream. I woke up this morning and cried and cried."
Family photos still hung on the tops of walls where the bottom was knocked out. Two cookbooks written in Italian, sent from Lola's mother in Italy in the 1950s, lay soaked in plastic bags. Crystal glasses sat on the dining room table. Palmerini instructed her son to throw them out.
"I said throw away everything, because I don't want to see anything," she said.
Palmerini stood outside her house on a sun-splashed fall afternoon and spoke in Italian with two of her neighbors, Barbara Spadavecchia, 69, and Lucrezia Gagliardi, 72. Gagliardi's husband was cleaning their backyard; Spadavecchia's son was hosing out the garage, which he had just cleaned with bleach. The first floors of each of their houses were empty, the wet contents removed.
Like others who have owned their homes on Lamker Court for years, the women and their husbands paid off their homes years ago. Because they have no mortgage, they are not required to have flood insurance. And because they all said the street never flooded, they did not opt to spend the money.
"In the beginning, I had it, yes," Spadavecchia said. "But we received no water and I said, 'Why do we have to pay so much money for nothing?'"
Raguseo said many others do not have it as well. He only has structural flood insurance as required by his mortgage.
"There are a lot of people in this town who don't have a mortgage anymore," Raguseo said. "They're not required to have flood insurance."
The three women walked down to Gagliardi's driveway. As they chatted, a FEMA representative approached them, asking if they had registered with the agency.
"Are you looking to take us to dinner?" Palmerini asked as the women laughed.
"We've been through a lot," Palmerini said. "We'll get through this."
Down the street, Cirillo cleaned out her house with the help of her granddaughter, grandson and son, John. She has lived in the house for 50 years.
"I always wanted my garage cleaned out, and this is not the way I wanted to do it," she said.
John Cirillo said the street has come together; people brought around trays of hot dogs for people who were cleaning up and everyone was lending neighbors a hand.
"You know everyone down here," he said. "It happened to everyone and you just look at each other and say, 'What can you do?'"
Each September, the street has a huge block party - enough hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, salads and Italian cookies to feed everyone for weeks, kegs of beer and a DJ who spins well into the night. Cirillo believes that the block party will even bigger next year - and that no one will leave Lamker Court.
"You can't find a better neighborhood," he said.