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In Sandy's Wake: How Ordinary People Became Heroes in Extraordinary Circumstances

11/07/2012 at 08:00 AM EST

Sandy: Survivor Stories
Heroes of the Storm
When Sandy slammed into the East Coast, strangers became family and dozens of heroes emerged to save their neighbors, friends and people they'd never met.

In Seaside Heights, N.J., mother of three Vickie Rietheimer, 33, heard screams for help after water surged through her neighborhood and saw her neighbors barely clinging onto a fence in the swirling water.

"We opened the door," she says, "and got them inside our apartment."

Unwilling to give up even when generators flooded at New York University's Langone Medical Center, Lori Touchette, 30, the charge nurse at the Congenital Cardio-Vascular Care Unit safely evacuated critically-ill children down 15 flights of wet stairs, manually pushing air into their tiny lungs each step of the way.

"It was a harrowing experience," she says. "Everybody in the hospital came together."

Says grateful mother Carlene Joseph, 40, whose daughter, Naomi, 2, was a heart surgery patient saved by Touchette: "To see all that night was amazing. I was praying that the angels would be there to make everyone feel calm. And my prayers were answered."

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