Pei-Sze Cheng reports.
Flooding continues to hamper recovery efforts from Hurricane Irene in northern new Jersey while residents can begin seeking aid under a disaster declaration signed by President Barack Obama.
The Passaic River is receding, but major flooding continues in Paterson, Little Falls and Pine Brook Thursday.
Elsewhere in the state, residents are cutting up downed trees and throwing out waterlogged possessions.
Flooding and downed trees remain a problem for utility crews trying to restore electricity to more than 84,000 homes and businesses.
Obama on Wednesday cleared the way for residents in Bergen, Essex, Morris, Passaic and Somerset counties to seek disaster aid by applying online or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA.
The president is slated to view the damage when he visits Paterson on Sunday.
Meanwhile, houses around New Jersey resembled large, soggy yard sales as homeowners dragged flood-damaged belongings out onto lawns and into streets still muddied with floodwaters.
Tom and Roxanne Gorski, of Wallington, broke down and cried when they realized the river had ravaged their Anderson Avenue home.
"There are no words," she said. "It's just total devastation."
Upstream in Lodi, Bonnie Riddick wondered who would replace the ruined furniture and appliances in her flooded apartment. "This just stinks, in more ways than one," she said, noting the odor of sewage in the air.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate visited flood-damaged areas Wednesday afternoon.
The declaration came against the backdrop of a brewing budget debate in Washington over whether hurricane disaster aid should be offset by federal spending cuts.
Gov. Chris Christie, visiting Lincoln Park in Morris County on Wednesday with Fugate and Napolitano, expressed anger at the standoff and noted that no such debate ensued after a deadly tornado hit Joplin, Mo., earlier this year.
At Christie's news conference, a heckler yelled out: "Love the dog and pony show. Fix the rivers and dams."
State climatologist David Robinson said the rainfall that fell during Irene, averaging 7 inches statewide, was the worst since the Great Flood of 1903. The flooding statewide was the most extensive on record, he said, though for the Passaic and Raritan rivers the floods were the second worst ever measured.
State officials said Wednesday it was too early to determine the scope of the damage across New Jersey, particularly since not all the floodwaters have receded. Teams were expected to be out in a day or two to perform preliminary damage assessments.
In Paterson, Obama could see far more debris and damage than water by Sunday. On Wednesday, many bridges around the city had reopened and floodwaters were gradually receding back into the Passaic River, though parts of downtown still were flooded.