Before Jon Zois and his girlfriend Meredith evacuated their Union Beach home that overlooks the Raritan Bay on Sunday afternoon, they each packed a suitcase and moved their more valuable possessions up to the second floor.
"I thought worst case scenario we would get a flooded basement and living room and would have to replace some furniture and the carpets," he said.
The couple hunkered down during Hurricane Sandy at the Holiday Inn in Hazlet, where Zois said that the staff did everything they could to keep their guests, most of which were evacuees, comfortable after the hotel lost power.
The couple's friends from Union Beach were posting on Facebook and Tweeting during the storm that water had reached homes five blocks away from the waterfront. Even so, Zois wasn't expecting much more than flood damage.
After the skies cleared, the scope of the devastation to the Bayshore began to set in.
"We just were not prepared for what we saw," he said. "As we were driving through the town we saw all the destruction. My girlfriend was looking and said, I think I can see inside our attic from the street."
"She just broke down in tears and started running into the rubble looking for anything she could salvage," Zois said.
The way the home was designed, their bedroom, a spare bedroom, the living room and the dining room were all on the side of the building that was washed away.
"It's just crazy. I never in a million years would have thought a storm could do that to this house. It stood for 150 years or more. It's probably one of the oldest ones in the county," he said. "I grew up watching the Weather Channel and seeing this type of stuff happening in Florida, in New Orleans. I never thought I would see this kind of thing destroy New Jersey like it did."
The Zois family purchased the historic home about fifteen years ago. Zios' father owns the approximately 150-year-old house as well as five others on Front Street that he rents out.
"The one I live in was one of the few along the waterfront where any was left standing. There was a little house next door, and there was just nothing left of that house," he said.
Zois and his girlfriend only moved into the home about six months ago.
"It's called the Princess Cottage. I think it acquired that name in the early 20th century. It was probably going to be my sister's because she was going to marry her boyfriend, but unfortunately I lost my sister back in 2009," he said. "It was my plan and my dream to live in that house."
Zios is still a little numb to situation, noting that his father isn't sure yet whether they will be able to rebuild the house. The idea that their life was washed away with the tide has been too much to truly comprehend.
"The whole thing is just hard to believe," he said. "I just never imagined, never dreamed, that anything would happen to my house. It's such historic house, a brick house. It's so sturdy; it's been standing for 150 years."
Some of their family members started a fund to help the couple restart their life, and while Zois is extremely grateful, he hopes that no one forgets about the thousands of people who have no home, no belongings, and nowhere to turn.
"I consider myself fortunate that at least we had somewhere to go. My house has been shown on TV and all around the media because it's such an iconic photo. But there are so many people's stories who are not going to be told who lost everything. People really need to be donating to the Red Cross and helping any way they can," he said. "There are tens of thousands of people who are homeless now. There are houses in shambles, just completely demolished."
To donate to the Zois family, click here.
To donate to the Red Cross, click here.