Dana Barkus stood in the rain outside the Old Navy in West Manchester Township, a cellphone in one hand and in the other a thin album of pictures.
One old photo showed a girl grinning in front of a wooden beach house.
"I was about 8 in that one," she said. "Check out that jean jacket, and that hair."
That's the back porch, she said, pointing to a square of weather-worn wood behind a little house at the New Jersey shore. It was a home in Pleasantville.
That porch was remodeled years ago, the 28-year-old said. It was screened in and soon filled with laughter from game nights. Family would come in from the beach and flop down. They'd wait for crabs caught off the pier and steamed on the kitchen stove.
That's where Barkus, a Red Lion resident, spent her summers.
"I thought it would be there forever," she said last week, just back from a shattered, surreal Pleasantville. "I thought it would last."
As the storm approached on Monday, there was plenty of worry at Frank Kibler's Springettsbury Township house.
Kibler and wife Jennifer bought a home in Avalon, N.J., 10 years ago, splitting the costs with another couple. As Hurricane Sandy stormed through, Kibler held his breath.
"It's like all you could do was sit and watch," he said.
The hurricane hit Monday and caused as much as $50 billion in damage, much of it to New York and along the New Jersey coast, according to The Associated Press. The storm killed at least 92 people, and days later more than 3.8 million people were still without power, the AP said.
Kibler had planned to drive to New Jersey on Friday. Late Thursday he at last heard from a neighbor -- the beach house was OK.
But the storm took an emotional toll on him and many whose memories were shaped in the sand along the New Jersey shore.
Warren Miller bought a home in Avalon about 25 years ago.
"It's such a unique spot," he said. "It's been there for so long."
Late last week the Hanover resident heard from his cousin at the beach.
Everything's fine, the cousin said, thank God.
The rain kept falling and Dana Barkus put down her old photos, pulling up new pictures on her cellphone.
"The porch was ripped off," she said, her fingernail tapping the screen as she scrolled. "Look. It's all gone. All of it."
Barkus and her boyfriend drove to Pleasantville, near Atlantic City, on Wednesday, then sat in traffic. She had to show ID just to get into town, she said.
Soon, the reason came into focus.
Homes were ripped from their foundations, Barkus said. Roofs lay on the ground, blocks from where they belong. The marina was destroyed. Sets of concrete steps led up, to nowhere.
"You don't even know where to walk," she said. "You don't know how to process it."
Barkus, a manager at Walmart, eventually got to the house where she played as a child, the place her son, 8-year-old Anthony, has spent summers since he was a toddler.
It had been nearly knocked off its foundation when a large piece of the neighbor's house came free and crashed into it.
For days, the water and wind had streamed in.
Next door, another neighbor crawled through the wreckage of her
"There's looting everywhere," Barkus said. "People are sleeping in cars, trying to protect their house."
Barkus did what she could. On her way back, she passed a man slogging through knee-high water. He was dragging a black trash bag, likely all he had left, she said.
It was still bobbing there in a flooded street as Barkus drove away.
Steve McKonly drove into New Jersey on Thursday, hours after Barkus made her trip.
The Hanover attorney has been going to Stone Harbor for years to surf. On Thursday, McKonly and his wife came with cleaning supplies, and
The house is fine, McKonly said later from Stone Harbor, about 30 miles south of Pleasantville. There's scattered damage, he said, and the business district was flooded.
"I think the further north you go in New Jersey," he said, wind whistling through the phone, "the worse it was."
Another Hanover resident, Thomas Toner, got word via email that his Stone Harbor property is intact. The New Jersey native is putting off a trip, to let residents begin to recover.
"There are people up there who need the relief services more than I do," he said.
McKonly said on the way over he passed a convoy of utility trucks.
There must have been 125 vehicles spread over five miles, he said -- trucks from Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Texas. They were probably going to New York City, McKonly suggested.
"I'll tell you," he said, "it almost brought tears to my eyes."
Dana Barkus put her phone down, took a deep breath and wiped an eye.
"We don't know what will happen now," she said. "We don't know what's next."
Barkus said she read the jokes online last week, the snarky comments. That wasn't a storm, people said. Everybody stocked up and worried, and it fizzled out.
Some York County residents seemed to want more excitement from Sandy.
Be careful what you wish for, Barkus said.
"It was awful," she said. "You should thank God it stopped where it did."
The family planned to drive back to Pleasantville on Saturday. There, they would go through the house, likely for the last time. It will be demolished, and Barkus wants to save what she can.
Maybe a stray photo, hidden in the debris. Maybe some furniture, or a metal pot to steam crabs.
For Anthony, that's a piece of a memory.
Crabbing out on the pier, the boy said, was always the best part.Also of interest