When Superstorm Sandy hit one year ago, it ravaged whole communities. With a population of just 2,700, Moonachie, New Jersey -- a borough in Bergen County -- was hit with the unexpected. Superstorm Sandy unleashed its fury when the nearby Hackensack River flooded the borough's banks, creating a giant wave of water that swept through the community. Of the 350 houses in Moonachie, nearly all were severely damaged by Sandy.
Pete and Millie Peterson have been married for almost 50 years. But even a year after the storm, they are still struggling to rebuild the lifetime of memories Sandy washed away. Water from Sandy's surge flooded their 100-year-old home, almost reaching the second floor.
The night Sandy hit, Millie and Pete waited all night in their upstairs living room. If the water continued to rise, they feared, the roof would be the only safe place left to go.
"I didn't want to see it," Millie Peterson said. "All the stuff floating."
After waiting out the storm on their second floor, the Petersons were finally rescued by boat the next day. A local news crew interviewed the couple as they made their way to safety.
"We looked outside and it was torrent rain and you drowned if you walked outside your door," Millie Peterson said.
The couple's daughter, Sandra Groom, says the day her parents got rescued was one of the scariest and most memorable days of her life. "When I saw them get off the bus I cried," Groom said.
Witnessing the destruction was hard for Groom to overcome. "To see your house that you grew up in shambles, it hit home. I literally I fell to my knees. It was devastating."
When the water was gone, the Petersons learned their electric systems, plumbing, H-VAC and structure of the house were destroyed. The few items they were able to salvage were covered with rust and mold.
The Petersons weren't alone. The Moonachie Volunteer Fire Department saved hundreds of lives during Sandy. But even the fire department was ripped apart by the storm. The fire station suffered $650,000 worth of damage. The department also lost two of its fire engines in the wake of the storm.
Firefighter Eugene Sanchez said when the storm hit, things got ugly. "We were in here, we started hearing the transformers blowing outside. We probably would have lost every vehicle in there and whoever didn't know how to swim."
The Petersons' story touched former "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" host Ty Pennington. Pennington connected with a nonprofit called Rebuilding Together to help the Petersons and others still struggling in Moonachie. Pennington and his team, along with Rebuilding Together, rounded up volunteers and started the process of cleaning up.
"This is an amazing thing to see this many people showing up. Sometimes it takes a disaster to show what human beings can do for each other in a time of need. I think this is a really perfect example of exactly that," said Pennington.
After several days of hard work by Pennington and his team, the Petersons' first floor was complete, and the family returned home. Even before the big reveal, it was clear that a lot of hard work and a lot of love went into this renovation.
"We've been working on this house for about two months," said Bob Williams from Rebuilding Together. "A lot of volunteer hours, a lot of technical and professional contractor hours, and today is the finished job."
"I know what my mother's face looked like when they were ripping stuff out of the house. I can't wait to see her face when she walks back into the house," said Sandra Groom.
When it was time for the big reveal, Millie Peterson couldn't hold back her tears. The volunteers went above and beyond to give the Petersons back everything that they had lost. "It's starting a new life," said Pete Peterson.
Today, work continues at the Moonachie Volunteer Fire Department. The much-needed renovations at the firehouse are halfway done. The trucks are now repaired. However, the firehouse still doesn't have a working bathroom.
As for the Petersons, they're now making new memories in their new 100-year-old home.