"Every so often, we have similar cases, but this had to be the absolute worst," Censullo said.
Police officials on the scene agreed. Other health officials concurred. The conditions were beyond amazing and beyond description.
Here's the scenario at what became the worst health hazard in perhaps the history of North Bergen.
Police received a phone call last Thursday afternoon from a North Bergen resident who was concerned about her friend who resided at 2517 Kennedy Boulevard, in the back house of a two-unit complex.
"The neighbor said that the two of them talked every day, but that she hadn't heard from the resident of the house or saw her for several days and that she was worried," said Theresa Dwyer, a North Bergen health investigator. "So the police knocked on the door and there was no response."
The North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue was then summoned to the scene to physically remove the door, in order to see if the resident of the house was fine.
"When the fire department opened the door, there were piles of garbage everywhere," Dwyer said. "The garbage was three feet high throughout the residence. The fire department had to shovel a walkway just to get to help her."
The resident, 69-year-old Patricia Divine, had apparently suffered a stroke and was living among the rubble for several days. The NHRFR rescue team got Divine out of the residence and brought her to Palisades Medical Center for evaluation.
But that left the health department with the major dilemma. What to do with the incredible mess left behind?
"It was really unbelievable," Dwyer said. "Apparently, the woman had about 11 cats. There was cat excrement all over. There were maggots, flies, bugs, you name it. There were piles and piles of garbage all over. I really can't even describe it. There were bags upon bags of food. Some of it was good and unopened. Other food was opened and just left there. I don't know how anyone could live like that. We've had cases like this where people just don't throw anything out, but I never saw anything like this."
Apparently, Divine had lived in the house for 40 years. She was a tenant in a back house, owned by Maria Avellis, a 90-year-old woman who never paid any attention to what was ongoing in the other residence.
"This had to be collected over years and years," Censullo said. "There was some food that was so old that it had to pick axed up, like it was welded to the floor."
"Everyone was worried, because we didn't know what we would find in there," Dwyer said.
The North Bergen Department of Public Works was quickly dispatched to the scene and they deodorized the scene and put the door back on, to try to keep everything contained. The Health Department wanted to begin the cleanup immediately, but because the residence was occupied, they couldn't legally do anything without a court order.
However, the Humane Society did arrive to try to remove the remaining cats from the premises. Some were already deceased.
Some health department officials put on special suits to enter the residence.
"You couldn't go in there with regular clothes," Dwyer said. "With everything else in there, it was really unsafe."
Once a North Bergen municipal court judge ruled the residence was indeed a major health hazard, then workers could go about the dubious task of cleaning up the incredible mess.
"The stink alone was unreal," Dwyer said.
Health Department officials went in to look for important documents and items, like Divine's pocketbook. Police also found three weapons in the house, believed to be old military-style weapons, like a rifle and a .22 caliber revolver. They were turned over to the North Bergen police for examination.
Rich Walsh of Eccosafe Exterminators sprayed the facility and did a one-time fogging. Then, a cleaning crew, from Golan Cleaning Service, went in and began the tedious cleaning process that lasted five days, bringing bags and bags of trash out to the service's truck.
By last Wednesday, everything was finally removed from the house and it appeared to be restored to order, although neighboring residents were still concerned about the cats that had now become stray.
"Right now, all the garbage has been removed and the place appears to be back to normal," Dwyer said. "We have received complaints about cats roaming the streets and the area and the best we can suggest to residents is to buy traps at Home Depot and catch them, then call the Humane Society, because they can't afford to keep a crew out there all night. But we've done all we can to clean up that mess."
Censullo said that he was thankful to the general public for drawing the health hazard to the department's attention.
"Without the concern of the neighbors, we might have never known about this situation," Censullo said. "This was the worst I've seen in 30 years."