Hurricane Sandy will go down in history as one of Mother Nature's most surprising attacks on waterfront communities in the tristate area. When the storm hit the region in late October 2012, it turned streets into rivers and basements into swimming pools. In New York City, the disaster killed more than 40 people and caused billions of dollars in damages.

Though the floodwaters have long receded, the 10 years that have passed since the monster storm have not washed away the memories of those who lived through it.

In addition to high winds, heavy rains, and coastal storm surges, Sandy spawned a greater sense of community and activism across the region.

With the 10th anniversary of Sandy blowing in, WNYC and Gothamist captured the voices of 10 New Yorkers on how they weathered the storm and the lessons they learned.

Karen Blondel

She rode out the storm with her neighbors in Red Hook

Karen Blondel rode out Hurricane Sandy in her apartment in the Red Hook West Houses, and the storm helped her and her neighbors come together to draw attention to their building’s poor condition.

Blondel, a community organizer and 40-year resident of public housing, said she stayed put during Sandy to help her elderly neighbors and to make sure she didn’t stress out her dog.

“I had a brand new dog, and my dog had never been in a cage. I just didn’t know how that would work out if I had to shelter in one of the city shelters.”

Blondel said many of her neighbors also stuck around, which was unsurprising to her. She said they have always relied on each other for a sense of safety, and the community’s bond showed little signs of cracking during Sandy.

“I remember my neighbor was a paraplegic. And I had some guys take him up to the third floor because I was afraid there would be flooding in the building, and that he would be in danger,” Blondel said. “It does a lot to have a social infrastructure and cohesion.”

Blondel added that she and her neighbors were dealing with challenging scenarios long before Sandy clobbered their neighborhood.

Before Hurricane Sandy … I was very uncomfortable with allowing an outsider to see my living conditions. We lived with a lot of mold, we lived with lead, and we lived with all kinds of environmental indoor toxins. And it didn’t feel comfortable inviting people in because I was embarrassed.”

But Blondel, a one-time Harvard LOEB fellow, environmental justice organizer, and president of the Red Hook West Resident Association, said those long-standing issues could no longer be ignored after Sandy.

“When Hurricane Sandy happened, we couldn’t hide that condition anymore. It became tenfold worse and we had to seek help from outside.” She said the storm's destruction allowed residents access to repairs and aid — services that were slowed down by bureaucratic processes before Sandy.

For Blondel, Sandy was a great equalizer.

“Regardless of our cultural background, our gender, our religion, we have to recognize that when we’re struck with something like a natural catastrophe, like Sandy, Sandy is not going to stop on one side of the street because I live in public housing and you live in a townhouse.”

Richard Ahlemeyer

A priest who witnessed the best of people come through in the face of despair

Monsignor Richard Ahlemeyer was eating supper in the rectory of St. Camillus Roman Catholic Church in Rockaway Park when he looked out the window and saw Sandy's floodwaters rushing in from the ocean a block away.

Ahlemeyer is also the pastor of St. Virgilius in Broad Channel, an island community of roughly 983 houses in Jamaica Bay.

Ahlemeyer said Sandy decimated both communities.

“People were just walking around like zombies, cleaning out their houses, watching their whole lives being thrown out into the garbage.”

But, Ahlemeyer said he couldn’t allow hopelessness to loom in the rubble.

“The most important thing I think, for myself to say to people is, 'listen, God is not punishing us.' This is an act of nature … one of the things you try to do as a priest or a pastor or a minister in these types of situations is make people aware of the fact that in adversity, we can find strength in each other.”

Ahlemeyer said he witnessed just that in Sandy's aftermath. He said volunteers pulled together to clean up both churches so Mass could be celebrated the Sunday after the storm.

“They had taken up all the pews … but they had set it up so we could have Mass. And I must admit, I was surprised how many people showed up. Because they wanted to be there. They wanted to get together and check on each other.”

Ahlemeyer said the first Masses after Sandy were the most transformative he’d ever experienced in his 45 years as a priest. He said despite holding Mass without electricity, they found light in the darkness.

“There was a woman right by my left hand, and suddenly she just started crying. And I just looked at her, I said, ‘are you OK?’ And she said ‘no, I’m not.’ And she said, ‘I’m all alone, no one else in my family is still here.’ And someone sitting behind her just stood up, put her arms around her and said, ‘you’re not all alone, we're all in this together, and we’ll get through it together.’ And I just couldn’t believe it.”

Mike "Loco" Hoffman

He quickly organized rescue, cleanup, and rebuilding efforts

Mike "Loco" Hoffman, a landscaper at the time of Hurricane Sandy, jumped in to help anyone he could after the storm slammed Staten Island. He first responded to an "SOS" call from his work partner to help with a basement flooding in Midland Beach. But, Hoffman said, things escalated quickly and he soon found himself helping rescue people trapped in their homes and on their roofs over the following days.

“So when this happened there was no thought, it was just … alright, I’m able-bodied, I could do something, and you just do it. And you go off instinct, and you just go off your survival skill.”

Hoffman has lived his whole life in Staten Island and spent the days, weeks, and months after Sandy assisting his devastated community. He organized as many as 2,000 volunteers; collected, and distributed donated goods; and helped families clean up — and in some cases, rebuild — their homes. Hoffman, who now owns an independent music label and entertainment company, is convinced that the “I” should be silent in community.

“People throw the term hero around very loosely … I don't think anyone individually was, per se, a hero. But I mean, there [were] a lot of heroic things done. You know, you can't put the title ‘hero’ on just one person, because many people bonded together,” he said. “And without those people, none of us would have been able to succeed, [and] do what we managed to accomplish.”

Hoffman’s actions did not go unnoticed by the community. He was nominated as a Champion of Change and received the honor from the White House in April 2013.

Larry Racioppo

A photographer who documented the devastation in his community

Larry Racioppo of Rockway Park, Queens found a deeper sense of community in the rubble.

Larry Racioppo has lived steps from the beach in Rockaway Park since 1990. Despite his home’s proximity to the ocean at Beach 130th Street, he viewed the warnings about Hurricane Sandy as a “Chicken Little” story – where dangers were overhyped – because Hurricane Irene the year before didn’t produce the punch he had been told to watch out for. It was surreal to see his community fall to pieces during Sandy, Racioppo said.

“You can try and picture a city street, where every single house is emptying every single thing in it out into the street … mounds and mounds of sand.”

As a photographer for more than 50 years, Racioppo said he saw the importance of documenting this disaster from the point of view of a local.

“I started photographing my basement. The ruins that were in my house, all the objects we threw out.”

Racioppo said he threw out damaged photos of his children, and soon started photographing the heartbreaking losses of his neighbors, including a dollhouse that had been handed down between generations. Seeing it all piled up for garbage trucks to haul away, Racioppo said the mess taught him a valuable lesson about life’s fragility.

“A lot of things that people were throwing out seemed very special to me, and I know they were special to them. One thing I remember is there was a photograph or an object that was made and the back of it said, ‘Made with love by Grandpa,’ and it’s just gone.”

Claudia Perez

An East Harlem woman who vows to be prepared for the next superstorm

When the East River started flooding parts of East Harlem, residents of the Washington Houses began to believe in the storm’s power and quickly started questioning how they would escape if things got too bad. Claudia Perez, who is the president of the public housing development’s tenants association, watched the storm’s wrath from the window of her seventh-floor apartment.

“The hospital across the street, Metropolitan Hospital, was going underwater.”

Perez said it was scary not knowing how far the floodwaters would rise.

“There was no emergency plan at all for evacuation or even knowing what to do within a household if you had to stay put,” Perez said. “I didn’t even know where my nearest shelter would be. And I’m figuring if the hospital goes down … we don’t have an emergency place to go to for medical help.”

Perez said the water never reached her complex, but she and her neighbors vowed to never be sitting ducks again. They came together to create the "Washington Houses Ready" booklet, which informs Washington Houses residents on how to stay safe in disastrous events.

“It lets you know so many things about just the simple things we don’t think of and we take advantage of, and it also lets you know what to have ready to just grab and go when it comes to evacuation.”

Perez said she learned that at the time of Sandy, 35% of Washington Houses residents were 65 and older and relied on walking devices, so the guide makes a point to address the needs of the complex’s aging population.

While she feels more prepared for a disaster now than ever before, Perez said she is not resting on her laurels.

“It’s good to know what to do. But there is still more work to do to fight back against climate change … it’s very important to push our electeds to start thinking about that.”

Liz Fox

She provided shelter for Nassau County pets

Liz Fox was on the front lines helping Nassau County residents who had no plan in place to flee the wrath of Sandy with their pets in tow. As a volunteer with the nonprofit Pet Safe Coalition, Fox helped set up a temporary disaster pet shelter in a gymnasium near Nassau Community College. Fox said the shelter took in more than 500 pets and remained open for more than four months.

“Many of the animals' reactions were what you would expect, because they felt the stress of their owners. They’re going to a different situation … anxiety-ridden.”

But Fox said it was also a very challenging time for her.

“I got into the zone where it’s just take care of everybody. And for a while there I forgot to take care of myself … I was pretty much living at the shelter for those four-and-a-half months with all those animals. And seeing how they were suffering, it takes a toll, even on people that aren’t as much of an animal lover as myself.”

The stress of the situation, Fox said, landed her in a hospital. But, she did find joy in the chaos.

“The greatest moment in my life was being able to return a betta fish to a 7-year old boy a couple days after he came in to protect his pet. The smile on his face just made everything better at the time.”

Fox remains committed to pet safety. Since Sandy, she has become the director of the Nassau County SPCA Disaster Response Team. Fox has developed a new plan for sheltering pets during emergencies in Nassau County and works to educate the public about how to prepare themselves and their pets for evacuations. She also continues to remind herself that while working in emergency management, “everybody’s got to take that break” to keep their mental health on track.

James Hodge

He brought attention to the destruction in his community

James Hodge was the chair of the Martin Luther King Center, a local youth organization in the North Park neighborhood of Long Beach, Long Island, when Sandy hit.

Hodge, a lifelong resident of the community, said he was determined to help in any way he could when the “ocean met the bay” on Long Beach.

“[There] wasn’t a thought ‘what do I need for myself.’ He said he immediately wanted to help his neighbors and went door to door to make sure people were safe – all while his own home suffered extensive damage.

“I’ve always seen my mother and father help,” he said. Being a pastor’s son … it was always in me to do it.”

Hodge recalled riding out the storm with his parents in their living room.

He said he and his parents prayed for the water to stop rising. And it stopped in the middle of the couch, and it was a miracle, it was a blessing. And we fell asleep right there holding each other.”

After the storm, Hodge said the North Park community faced another challenge – a lack of attention from people in power.

“Everyone stayed on the outskirts of North Park and North Park is the poorest part of the city of Long Beach …. when they went to other distribution centers set up in Long Beach, I said, ‘why is no one coming?... why are we left out?’”

Hodge said he and a team of others called politicians to bring more attention to the suffering in his community.

“I always feel if you're not at the table, as my friends say, then you’re on the menu. And so, I’m always trying to say, ‘hey we’re here, we’re part of Long Beach, the city by the sea, with sand in our shoes.’ And that includes all of us.”

Wellington Chen

His office became a hub for Chinese Americans in need of support

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Manhattan’s Chinatown suffered from a loss of power and heat, and small businesses struggled to recover in the days and weeks after the storm.

Wellington Chen, executive director of the nonprofit organizations Chinatown Partnership and Chinatown Business Improvement District, said his office became the central location for Chinese Americans seeking assistance because they knew they would be heard and understood there.

“They know, for sure, [in] Chinatown, we will be providing language assistance … I still remember one lady who came from Far Rockaway. Her store not only got flooded, her neighborhood had a fire. And so she got both fire and water damage and she came all the way to our place. And she said, ‘I want to rebuild, but I need financial resources and we need help.’”

Chen said he witnessed many acts of kindness after Sandy, recalling one vivid memory at a high-rise apartment building.

In [the] Confucius Tower at 1 Bowery [there was] a human chain lining up at the staircase helping to relay the heavy water bottles, the cases of water bottles, and the cases of food. Talk about being united. Talk about human connectivity. That is when we are truly connected because that is the moment we come together and help one another.”

Chen described Sandy as a series of punches that his community has endured, from the impact of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, to the SARS scare in 2002 and 2003, and Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

“It’s about how many hits can you take – like a boxer? And trying to get back up … but so far, knock on wood, this community is still fighting.”

Marty Ingram

He battled the dangerous 'firestorm' in Breezy Point

Marty Ingram was chief of the Point Breeze Volunteer Fire Department when Sandy tackled the tight-knit beachfront community in the Rockaways. He said no risk assessment could have projected the disaster Sandy inflicted on Breezy Point. The storm brought flooding, then a fire that burned down some 135 homes.

As devastating as it was, Ingram remembered it with a kind of beauty.

“It was kind of majestic. I mean, we had a firestorm. We had embers flying with the winds, pumped by the hurricane. It looked like the sky was on fire. Every house with a propane tank for their gas grill, they were exploding. Transformers were exploding. The wires were on fire, it looked like a beautiful red ruby necklace.”

Ingram described battling the blaze like being at war.

“It was like combat,” said the former Air Force pilot. “And it stays with you. And you learn to live with it.”

As he looked back at that time, Ingram marveled at his crew's efforts, especially since they were battling a blaze without necessarily knowing whether their own homes were intact.

“These guys accepted orders, even though they were very dangerous to accept … their primary job is to protect lives and then protect the property. But when you’re a volunteer firefighter, you’re a part of that community.”

Ingram, who has authored a book on his experiences, "Flood, Fire, and a Superstorm," recalled witnessing miraculous moments, including when the department’s fire trucks started despite being under 5 feet of water.

“We carry as firefighters, we carry a tool bag and an assortment of different tools. Prayer is one of those tools we can use. And it was the best tool I could use that night.”

Dr. Norma Keller

A doctor who fought to keep a hospital running

Dr. Norma Keller, the chief of cardiology at Bellevue Hospital, said her work and personal lives collided right before Hurricane Sandy’s attack. Keller was a single mother at the time and felt torn as she navigated the hospital alongside the deep worry she had about the safety of her 11-year-old daughter, who was staying with Keller's mother on Staten Island.

“Before the storm there was a lot of preparatory work that went into being as ready as possible for the worst-case scenario. This entailed: calling trees; disaster trees; who was going to take care of what; backup upon backup; and really identifying what we would do if we lost electricity, which was our main concern.”

In the hours before the storm, the cardiologist said she was seesawing between caring for 270 patients at Bellevue and repeated phone calls from her anxious daughter.

“She was frightened to be without me. I didn’t know what the storm was going to be like. It was heartbreaking to think of her being scared and not being with her. So I actually went to Staten Island and picked her up from my mom’s and brought her back with me.”

Keller said that the East River's waters began to fill the floors upon their return to the hospital. She said the hospital’s staff had their hands full that night and for the following eight days.

“It seemed to come over very quickly. In terms of what we were worried about, it seemed to be coming to fruition quicker than we anticipated. And we were enacting plans, in terms of how we were going to support our patients that were on mechanical support, or ventilators helping them to breathe.” Her daughter was also helping in any way possible, she said, including distributing juice boxes.

The hospital circumvented a long-lasting power outage by forming an assembly line going up to the 13th floor, with buckets of fuel being carried to the backup generators. But eventually, the series of complications they faced with potable water and energy supply forced Bellevue’s doors shut. Founded in 1736, the hospital had been open to visitors for nearly three centuries before Sandy's devastation. And though everyone safely evacuated from the institution, Keller said she felt they had lost the fight.

“[It] just seemed unfathomable, and I think that reality really hit a lot of us. And it was very, very emotional. I remember standing there with another physician in tears, thinking about Bellevue closing its iconic doors.”