In part one of a multi-part series on the effects of Sandy on New Yorkers, NY1's Josh Robin follows the Russo family, whose oceanfront home in Brooklyn has been in their family for generations. This is his first report.
What's important and what's not. That's a lesson Charles Russo knew well.
"Time don't stand still for anybody," Russo says. "You got to move forward and that's what you got to do. I went through 9/11, lost a co-worker. That was pretty rough. Thought I'd seen it all when I seen that and now this happened."
The Russos' home was a home shattered. Getting it back required being willing to forget about sentimentality, or, in Russo's case, to forget about a 1969 Cutlass that was taking up space needed for construction.
"Definitely much bigger things to think about at this time," Russo says.
Progress has been measured in teaspoons. Electricity was back in one place. Cooking gas was too, even as there was really no kitchen.
In some ways, they're lucky. They have the means to lay out money.
Still, Russo's wife, Helen Nier-Russo, must have a to-do list the size of a phone book. Her one comfort was returning to her job. She's a special education teacher at a school where the storm affected many kids' homes.
"They said to me, 'How do we do this?' I'm like, 'we do it. We go forward.' Take a step back, take 20 steps forward," Nier-Russo says.
Her grandfather bought the house more than 40 years ago. Sol Nier is 92 now.
They all stayed during Sandy. The next day, Nier had a heart attack. He's moving into a nursing home.
Racing against mold and winter, they hired people or found strangers to help. There's no time for memories. They might have to scrape off the height markings from their kids. They were thankful pictures made it. The rest? They picked it up and tossed it out to move forward.
Even as they rebuild their home, the family faced a troubling uncertainty. Will they be allowed to stay here permanently? Buildings code may change. There has even been talk of a new regulation that would bar all beach-front homes here for fear that another Sandy would wipe them out again.
Russo puts those doubts away.
"My children, I don't want them to think that you just give up at a time like this," he says. "We have to stay strong, like I said, and do what we can do."