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And in New York, residents of the flooded beachfront neighborhood of Breezy Point in returned home to find fire had taken everything the water had not. A huge blaze destroyed perhaps 100 homes in the close-knit community where many had stayed behind despite being told to evacuate.

John Frawley acknowledged the mistake. Frawley, who lived about five houses from the fire’s edge, said he spent the night terrified “not knowing if the fire was going to jump the boulevard and come up to my house.”

“I stayed up all night,” he said. “The screams. The fire. It was horrifying.”

There were still only hints of the economic impact of the storm.

Forecasting firm IHS Global Insight predicted it would cause $20 billion in damage and $10 billion to $30 billion in lost business. Another firm, AIR Worldwide, estimated losses up to $15 billion.

“The biggest problem is not the first few days but the coming months,” said Alan Rubin, an expert in natural disaster recovery.

Some of those who lost homes and businesses to Sandy were promising to return and rebuild, but many sounded chastened by their encounter with nature’s fury. They included Tom Shalvey of Warwick, R.I., whose cottage on the beach in South Kingstown was washed away by raging surf, leaving a utility pipe as the only marker of where it once sat.

“We love the beach. We had many great times here,” Shalvey said. “We will be back. But it will not be on the front row.”

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Contributors to this report included Associated Press writers Angela Delli Santi in Belmar, N.J.; Geoff Mulvihill and Larry Rosenthal in Trenton, N.J.; Katie Zezima in Atlantic City, N.J.; Samantha Henry in Jersey City, N.J.; Pat Eaton-Robb and Michael Melia in Hartford, Conn.; Susan Haigh in New London, Conn.; John Christoffersen in Bridgeport, Conn.; Alicia Caldwell and Martin Crutsinger in Washington; David Klepper in South Kingstown, R.I.; David B. Caruso, Colleen Long, Jennifer Peltz, Tom Hays, Larry Neumeister, Ralph Russo and Scott Mayerowitz in New York.