The story of Hurricane Sandy

The winds may have died, but Sandy’s toll is still rising. Tim Walker tells the tales of the superstorm’s victims

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The Independent US

El Yunque in north-eastern Puerto Rico is the only tropical rainforest in the US National Forests system: a popular tourist destination, known for its lush vegetation and stunning waterfalls.

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It was here, just south of the Caribbean island's capital, San Juan, that 35-year-old Kenah Huggins was taking photographs last Saturday, when she lost her footing and slipped into a swollen river. Her friends watched helplessly as the Bronx resident was swept over a waterfall, thus becoming the first New Yorker to fall victim to the Superstorm.

Hurricane Sandy had already claimed lives across the Caribbean. As the eye of the storm passed over eastern Jamaica the previous Wednesday, 24 October, an elderly man was killed by a boulder which rolled off a nearby hillside, crushing his clapboard home. Authorities in Cuba said the category-two hurricane claimed 11 lives when it slammed into the Santiago and Guantanamo provinces at its south-eastern tip, tearing up trees, destroying crops and wrenching apart homes.

Since Tuesday rain had fallen incessantly on Haiti, still suffering the effects of the 2010 earthquake, with 370,000 people still living in makeshift shelters. Among those who succumbed to the storm were 40-year-old Jacqueline Tatille and her four children, aged five to 17. A mudslide flattened their wooden home in Grand Goave, 30 miles west of Port-au-Prince, on Thursday 25 October. Over the weekend, Haiti's death toll rose to 52. On Sunday seven people – six of them French citizens – set out from Dominica in heavy swell, aboard a motorboat bound for Martinique. They didn't arrive.

By then, the heart of the vast storm had moved north. In the Bahamas, Timothy Fraser-Smith, the 66-year-old British chief executive of Deltec Bank & Trust, fell to his death in the exclusive Lyford Cay neighbourhood while trying to repair a window shutter as the storm threatened. The archipelago suffered another casualty soon afterwards: last Friday morning The Nassau Guardian reported that Norbert Yonker, an elderly resident of Queen's Cove, Grand Bahama, was discovered face down in floodwaters that had inundated his apartment during the storm surge.

As Sandy thundered up the US eastern seaboard it bore down on HMS Bounty, a 180-foot replica of Captain Bligh's tall ship that was used in the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty, and was now sailing off the coast of North Carolina. The captain, Robin Walbridge, 63, ordered his crew to abandon ship at 5am on Monday and, as the vessel sank amid 18-foot waves, 14 of its 16 crew were rescued by the US Coast Guard. Claudene Christian, 42, who had joined the crew in May, was pulled from the water four hours later but never recovered consciousness. The hunt for Captain Walbridge was called off after four days.

Sandy finally struck the New Jersey coastline on Monday evening, making landfall just south of Atlantic City at about 8pm. A handful of major New Jersey and New York power plants, including the Oyster Creek nuclear station – the oldest of its type in the US – were shut down due to complications caused by the storm. The effects of this were felt as far south as Washington, where 18,000 residents, most of them in the College Park area, were left without power.

In Rhode Island a quarter of the state's homes and businesses lost power, and there were deaths as far north as Peabody, Massachusetts, where a Toyota four-wheel-drive hit the guardrail on Route 28 and rolled over in the outside lane, throwing three of the passengers from the car and killing one. At 5.30pm, having ventured outside to check on the calves at his family's farm in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, eight-year-old Matthew Stahl was crushed by a falling tree as his father watched helplessly. John Stahl kept his son warm until emergency crews arrived, but the boy was declared dead at the scene. In Pike County, 60 miles away, Gerald Witman, 62, was killed by a falling tree as he set out to walk his dogs.

Falling trees proved fatal for many that night: one man in Pearl River, New York; another in Pasadena, Maryland; another in Flushing, New York; two more in Suffolk County and Nassau, Long Island; and a man and a woman whose pick-up truck was struck in Morris County, northern New Jersey. Eleven-year-old Jack Baumler and 13-year-old Michael Robson were killed when a tree fell and split apart a house in Westchester, New York. Friends Jessie Streich-Kest and Jacob Vogelman were killed while walking a dog in Brooklyn.

In New York City, the storm claimed 41 lives. As fire destroyed 80 homes in Breezy Point, Queens, just across the water on Brighton Beach the NYPD's 60th precinct was being evacuated due to flooding. Water poured into subway tunnels, homes and the Ground Zero construction site. Lauren Abraham, 23, stepped into a puddle near a fallen electrical wire in Queens and was electrocuted. A parking attendant at a basement garage in Tribeca was trapped by a flash flood and drowned. At 444 Second Avenue, 75-year-old Herminia St John died after her respirator lost power. Her grandson rushed to Bellevue Hospital, a block away, to find a manually operated oxygen tank but was too late to save her.

On Staten Island authorities reported 20 fatalities. Among them was 13-year-old Angela Dresch and her father George, whose house on the waterfront at Tottenville had been torn apart by a wave. They had ignored the evacuation order and decided to sit out the storm at home. Angela's body was found a block away.

As dawn broke, the body of a woman thought to be a victim of the storm surge washed up at East Hampton on Long Island. She was later identified as 52-year-old teaching assistant Edith "Dee" Wright, who had gone missing the previous night while walking her dog along the seafront in Montauk, 15 miles away.

On Thursday rescuers came across the bodies of Connor and Brandon Moore, aged two and four, in a swamp. Their mother Glenda, 39, had tried to escape their Staten Island home in her four-wheel-drive on Monday night, but the car stalled on the waterlogged seafront road. As they continued on foot, both the boys were wrenched from their mother's grasp by a powerful wave. Sandy's death toll now stands at 165 including 96 in the US alone.