As she climbed past a tree that collapsed just by her front stoop, Joanne Tunbridge thought back to her father who built the house two blocks from the beach in the 1950s, AFP reports.
"He was a very smart man. He was always sorry that he didn't build one more block up," the retired teacher said as she started the long task of rebuilding from mega-storm Sandy.
But she had no intention of leaving the family home in evocatively named Point Pleasant Beach on the New Jersey Shore, a strip of towns famed for their unpretentious, beachfront lifestyle and the biggest victim of the disaster.
"The shore is in my blood. We all knew that this could happen. If you live in California, you have earthquakes. But it's a price worth paying to live here," she said.
Sandy killed nearly 120 people in the United States and the Caribbean as its ferocious winds and driving rain ravaged major population centers, with New Jersey the hardest hit US state.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said emotionally after the storm: "The Jersey Shore of my youth is gone."
Residents glanced into the sky and spotted Christie and President Barack Obama surveying the damage from a helicopter.
A Ferris wheel tumbled into the ocean and a boardwalk where revelers spent breezy evenings over drinks was shattered into little more than a jumble of wood.
Marilyn Skillender, 70, defied the orders to evacuate and watched as the water level built up to her front steps.
Two days later, the water had receded but the lion sculptures on her front lawn were toppled and replaced by pieces of the former boardwalk that was once a 15-minute stroll away.
"I used to travel 150 miles (250 kilometers) round trip every day from work just so I could get here. That's how much I enjoyed being here," said the retired school principal.
"I have no regrets. We'll build it up and we will do it all again."
The Jersey Shore has taken on a national profile thanks to a reality television show of the same name, although residents here insist the program's flamboyant characters and often raunchy antics were inaccurate and distasteful.
"This is a family-oriented place. The young people can go have a drink on the boardwalk and you can walk around here. Everyone is friendly and helps one another out," Skillender said.
Dave Bopp, who has lived on the shore for 35 years, put the damage in perspective, saying that Sandy did not have the sheer lethal force of other disasters such as a tsunami.
"We're taking the carpet out, that's all sopped. All in all, no one got hurt, and what's what counts," he said.
Next to a sign that says, "Slow, children at play," a full block was transformed into a giant pool, with the deep puddle -- and fears of loose wires and gas -- leading the police to restrict access to the neighborhood.
This city's population of 5,500 soars to 10 times as much in the summer, when seasonal residents come to enjoy the beach life in the warmer weather.
A sign near the devastated boardwalk still advertises massages, saying: "Locals welcome."
Marilyn Madden, a retiree who moved to the shore from inland New Jersey, voiced pride that her house was unscathed even on a block where the sand from the beach moved treacherously into the main streets.
"There is nowhere else I would want to be. I can walk to the beach, I can walk to the store, I can walk to church," she said.
"Next summer, people will be back. There's nothing to stop them," she said.