Exclusive excerpt from this week's PEOPLE Magazine: When the surge struck, it hit with mind-boggling speed and force, throwing up a terrifying wall of water that proved ruthlessly destructive. Within seconds Vickie Rietheimer of Seaside Heights, N.J., found herself standing in water up to her chest. "We heard someone yelling for help and opened the door," says the 33-year-old mother of three. "Our neighbors were clinging to a fence. We got them inside our apartment."
As Sandy raged across the northeast throughout the night of Oct. 29, the 900-mile-wide storm, the largest ever recorded in the Atlantic, flooded tunnels and airport runways, disrupted power grids, ignited devastating fires and swept away anything in its path – even two little boys as their frantic mother fought to save them. By the time the rains and winds stilled, at least 110 people were dead and damage estimates ranged up to $50 billion.
Though power crews labored round the clock, some 2 million people remained without electricity a week later, most in New York and New Jersey, the hardest-hit states. By then, tears of grief were leavened by tears of gratitude as neighbors, friends and strangers extended a helping hand to ease each other's distress.
Dave Brown,59, of South Seaside Park, N.J., lives less than two blocks from the Star Jet roller coaster, now wrecked and sitting adrift in the surf. It came in fast and furious. We were getting the ocean and the wind, which we clocked at between 80 and 100 miles per hour. With all the noise, you couldn't hear the Casino pier fall. Tuesday I saw the devastation. Pieces of the boardwalk were everywhere, 20-ft.-by- 40-ft. sections. It seems like weâ€™re in a movie and everything's been staged for a horror show – except it's real.
Lisa Michon,41, of Staten Island, was among those ordered to evacuate at 7 p.m. the night of the storm. [Authorities] said, "Grab your valuables." And before you know it, the water just came. One shot just flooded everything. ...