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Devastated Rockaway Residents Fear More Looting

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The Rockaways in Queens remained without power Wednesday night following Superstorm Sandy, and fears were mounting that looters would continue to exploit the disaster for their personal gain.

As CBS 2's Dave Carlin reported, there had been more than a dozen arrests as of Wednesday night, and parts of the business district were flooded or gutted by fire.

The suspects have all been charged with burglary and other crimes from looting and robbing a liquor store, clothing stores and a Radio Shack in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

"Seeing the neighborhood where I grew up become devastated in a flash; I mean people are hurting," said Rockaway Park resident Jane Chiaia.

The entrance to the Rockaways was guarded by police officers, with the message that no one may enter without a good and pressing reason.

Once people did enter, they saw sand- and debris-covered streets full of dangers and surprises. A waterlogged piano, of all items, blocked traffic. Vehicles were stacked one on top of the other, thrown together in a stormy slow-motion water ballet that neighbors watched from the top floors of submerged house.

"The water floated everything from the ocean and pushed everything this way," said Rockaway Park resident Nick Mihalaslas. "This car was parked in the driveway, like, three houses down, and (the other one) was up the block, that floated this way."

"Watching it from the window, I thought I was going to die," added Rockaway Park resident Kim Sager.

The wind pulled down items all around the neighborhood, but many people stayed in their homes, risking their lives because they didn't want to leave for fear of looting.

"People breaking into stores – it's not cool right now," Mihalaslas said. "I'm going to sit here and stand my ground."

Fourteen businesses in a row on Rockaway Beach Boulevard were torched after a transformer blew. At the height of the storm, survivors had rising water on both sides of the flames.

"They said Papa John's is burned down. There is no more Papa John's," said Chelladurai Simon. "Then about two or three hours, they said the laundromat is burning."

By the time it was all done, more than a dozen stores had been lost to fire.

"Everything was gone," Simon said. Early morning, when we came, there was nothing here."

Residents of the devastated area vowed to rebuild, look out for each other and take this the only way they could -- one day, one step at a time.

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