There was no way of knowing how high the water would rise. That, Mathias Kiwanuka said, was the scary part as he huddled in the upper levels of his Hoboken townhouse with his wife, daughter and mother-in-law on Monday night, trapped by the floods that consumed the first floor of his building.
"It wasn't like the water just came from the Hudson," Kiwanuka said Friday, recalling the harrowing experience that was similar to those of so many in Hoboken and comparable to what millions along the East Coast went through this week. "The storm drains backed up so the water was literally just coming out of the ground and coming out of the drainage pipes. And it came up really fast, so you don't know how [high], at what point it's going to stop when you're in the middle of it. It was tough."
The first floor was flooded with river water, sewage and fuel and oil from cars that were overcome by the events. For two days the Kiwanukas were trapped in their home, unable to wade through or get their cars out, until they finally were able to move to a hotel on Wednesday afternoon. They'll stay there for the time being, as it could be months before their home is livable again.
"I was displaced from the hurricane, but you still have a job to do, still worry about your family," he said. "You put things in priority, take care of your family first and then get back to work. You know, it's New Jersey. It's a tough state. A state full of tough people. We'll rebuild, we'll get back on our feet. But in the meantime, we just have to get together and help everybody out."
That means, in some small part, playing football.
"It's a game, we understand that, but it's a big part of people's lives," Kiwanuka said. "Not just for us playing but people who are fans, they look so forward to the games so much that even when they're at their most vulnerable, in the most devastating situations, they can have a couple of hours where they can root for their team, they can be outside of their circumstances, and enjoy a part of their life that is normal. They're used to seeing the Giants on TV and lately they've been accustomed to us winning, so hopefully we'll provide them with a reason to smile."
On Friday, for the first time since earlier in the week, he returned to the house to assess the damage. The floodwaters had receded, but left behind was a base of debris. And the stench. Kiwanuka said he would not allow his family to move back in until everything is removed for fear of his eight-month-old daughter breathing contaminated air.
"I want to get it clean-clean," he said. "For me, I'd rather err on the side of caution. Even if they say, 'Yeah, you can go back in today,' I'm not going to push it . . . We're fortunate enough that we can go somewhere else and stay for a while and get everything cleaned up the right way."
Other Giants had difficult experiences with power outages and some storm damage. The players have traded stories in the locker room about making do, getting around and what they've been seeing. Kiwanuka, though, seems to have been hit the worst.
And Sunday, he'll be expected to play at his best against the Steelers.
"That's what we do," Kiwanuka said. "There are a number of different issues that, as players, you have to deal with individually and maybe as a team deal with. When you get out there on the field, that's your chance and your opportunity -- once your family and everybody is safe -- this is your opportunity to let everything go and go out there and play hard. We kind of use that to our advantage."