As superstorm Sandy approached the Queens beachfront community of Breezy Point, Sheila McCarthy gathered her daughter and fled to the safety of her sister's house.
But it was only hours before she was fleeing again, this time clutching her child as she waded through floodwaters that reached chest high.
Sandy's brute force brought business to a halt and sowed chaos into the lives of residents and commuters along the East Coast. But in Queens' low-lying Jamaica Bay communities, where affordable homes by the beach have encouraged aunts, cousins, siblings and parents to stay in the neighborhood through generations, the storm devastated extended families.
Like many residents of Breezy Point, the Rockaways, Howard Beach and Broad Channel, McCarthy comes from a family whose offspring settled close to where they grew up.
One of her sisters lives a short way west from her in Breezy Point, near where 110 buildings were destroyed by fire on Monday night. Two others live a few miles east in Rockaway Beach, as does her brother.
As of Thursday afternoon, all were still without heat or electricity, she said. "We have to find a long-term place to live," she said.
Breezy Point is a private community of beach bungalows packed as tightly together as the close-knit families who have lived here for generations.
McCarthy's parents bought into the neighborhood 40 years ago. Now she lives with her husband, Derek in the house where she grew up. Her twin sister, Karen Ritter, lives 15 minutes away.
Thursday, McCarthy and her husband were among the hundreds of Breezy Point residents who returned to survey the damage. For most, there was little to salvage.
Pushed by 60-mph gusts, and pulled by a full moon, a 4-foot wall of the Atlantic surged through Breezy Point on Monday, flooding the ground-floor rooms of the luckier houses. For scores of others, the surge knocked homes off their foundations, leaving some listing ominously, and others with their roofs collapsed.
The McCarthys lost both of their automobiles, which like most cars in the neighborhood would not start after having been submerged in waters that reached above hood-level. With no way to reach her job in New Jersey, she does not know when she will return to work.
Residents in these waterside communities have been without electricity or cellphone service since the storm passed. Many complained bitterly about the lack of emergency food, water, ice or other supplies, even as they acknowledged that relief efforts likely have been stretched thin.
"They haven't told us anything," McCarthy said. "But maybe there's nothing to tell."