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Residents Return To Fire Island, Where The Protective Dunes Are No More

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – For the first time since Superstorm Sandy roared through the Tri-State Area, people who own second homes on Fire Island were allowed back to see the damage.

Anxiety, hope and perspective occupied the people on the packed Fire Island Ferry. Seasonal owners were granted three hours to see how their beloved summer homes stood up to Sandy, CBS 2's Carolyn Gusoff reported Wednesday.

"My reaction is it's sad but I'm happy our house is still there and we can save it," Ocean Beach homeowner Hyman Portnoy said.

Sandy's calling card was evident from the Ocean Beach ferry dock -- restaurants left mangled, shops along Bay Walk coated with thick mud. The entire 32 mile-long barrier island was submerged in chest high water for a week -- from ocean to bay.

Sand now half-buries some homes, while others were blown off their foundations. In all, 80 percent of the homes were flooded, CBS 2's Gusoff reported.

"It's tough to see, but we'll be able to get through it and put it back together. When you live on an island like this, you know, you can expect that to happen. Unfortunately, the people on the beach don't have a lot left," Ocean Beach homeowner George Johnston said.

People like Joe Pogostin were happy to see their homes still standing -- barely. Pogostin's windows were blown out and his were crumbled, and he has no insurance.

"When I bought it I knew I was taking a chance. Now I got a little bit of damage. I'll fix it up,' Pogostin said.

It's estimated some 90 houses were a complete loss.

"There are houses that are teetering on stilts, houses that don't have foundations and some that just don't have a deck anymore," Ocean Beach Fire Chief Ian Levine said.

But even with tears in their eyes, homeowners vowed to rebuild by summer.

"It's heartbreaking. For a lot of people, this is Breezy Point, Staten Island, Long Beach, Jersey … it's all terrible, but we will be back," homeowner Vicky Muller said.

Sandy took away something which is more complicated to rebuild than homes. The dunes that protected this barrier island and, in turn, the mainland are completely gone, leaving the homes that are still standing completely exposed for the next storm.

Residents with proof of ownership will be allowed back on Fire Island over the next three days.

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