In the flooded city of Paterson, N.J., Carlos Rodriguez and Roxana Lopez, struggling with the destruction of their home and belongings, have had no choice but to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help.
"We lost everything," said Rodriguez after visiting FEMA's Paterson assistance center, which has been open for a week.
Rodriguez and Lopez have two young children, 3-year-old Jaselene and one-a-half-year-old Jeanice. Inside the downstairs apartment they rent less than a block away from the swift and bloated Passaic River, mold is already growing on sheet rock inches off the floor in their daughters' bedroom.
"To have everything for so many years and lose everything from one moment to another is hard," Rodriguez said.
The couple are among New Jersey's 22,900 flood victims who have gone to FEMA for assistance in the overwhelming aftermath of Irene and its subsequent storms.
FEMA likely will help Rodriguez rebuild his family's life after the floods, said spokesman Gregory Hughes; the agency has already handed out $7.9 million in checks for things like rental assistance and appliance replacement.
"We can provide grants for essential living items, water heaters, washer and dryers, refrigerators, those kinds of things," Hughes said.
But by law, FEMA cannot make you whole again.
For example, the agency wouldn't normally buy you a new flat screen TV, or Wii, or XBox.
But Hughes did say that in some cases, if your insurance company doesn't fully cover replacement costs, FEMA may make up the difference.
Three centers have already opened across the state, in Paterson, Hackensack and Sommerville, and more are on the way, said FEMA.
For more information, visit New Jersey's Office of Emergency Management website.