Crunching through sand and storm debris Saturday, an Islip Town planning department employee carefully approached a hard-leaning house on Fire Island and stapled a red placard to its wood siding.
The placards aren't demolition orders, but they signify that the house is unsafe and shouldn't be entered.
Most of the oceanfront homes in Atlantique, which officials say is the barrier island's worst-hit community, are either damaged or destroyed. Sandy's storm surge lifted houses from their foundations and smashed them into others, or turned them clockwise, causing pilings to buckle.
Many look like a stiff breeze could collapse them. Sand is piled several feet over concrete walks, burying fire hydrants. Along with debris, propane tanks litter the sand.
Because of the dangerous conditions, town, fire and police officials are pleading with homeowners to stay away until they can assess the damage and solve sewage and water issues that could cause public health problems.
Also, the risk of fire is high, because of the saltwater corrosion of electrical wires, officials said. There have been scattered structural fires in nearby Ocean Beach and without normal crews, trucks and a reliable water supply, fire departments aren't equipped to fight them.
"Let the teams go over, assess the structures and be patient," Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci said Saturday in a message to island property owners and residents.
A mandatory evacuation order was issued for Fire Island before Sandy, but more than 120 residents stayed behind -- frustrating first responders.
"When you're told to get out, you gotta get out," said Ian Levine, first assistant chief for the Ocean Beach Fire Department. "You're not only putting yourself in danger, you're putting others in danger."
Residents who stayed through the storm said they'd never seen anything like it -- and next time, they'll evacuate.
"It was scary," said Lori Mattiasen, a year-round Seaview resident. "I'll never stay there again. And now we're very vulnerable because Seaview had a great dune line, very high and very wide, and now it's all gone."
The dunes that offered protection from high ocean waves have been flattened, and with the National Weather Service predicting a nor'easter hitting Long Island as early as Tuesday night, the coastline may be battered even more.
Officials say hordes of residents and "thrill-seekers" have tried to reach Fire Island by boat. Islip Harbor Police say they are monitoring the bay: Anyone caught trying to sneak onto the island will be charged with criminal trespass.
Residents who weathered the storm are also becoming antsy. Andrew Athing, a maintenance contractor who has lived in Atlantique for 33 years, said he shouldn't be barred from going to and from the mainland. "I'm a human being; I should be allowed to leave," he said. "I haven't seen my wife and kids in a week."
Croci said the town will meet with residents soon to talk about when it will be safe for them to return and check their homes.