Power lines crackled in the solid black night as the Atlantic Ocean rushed ashore. A sandy strip of a neighborhood called Broad Channel was about to go underwater.
"We're gonna drown if this goes any higher!" Karen Panetta remembers yelling to her four children.
Superstorm Sandy hit a year ago this week, shocking this tiny community with its force. On one side of Broad Channel, the ocean poured through homes and met Jamaica Bay on the other side. The Panettas' home was right in the middle. But one glimmer of hope emerged from that dark and scary night: A hero was born.
"I jumped into the water and went for help," said Ryan Panetta, 13 at the time.
He swam like a little fish to the neighbors' homes looking for people. His mother remembers how the little kids were screaming with fear. She pulled them atop a bed but the water was rising too high. Ryan finally found someone on the second floor of a neighbor's house. He swam back with them through the debris, he said, "not even thinking about what I was doing but just about my family."
Everyone got out alive. They laughed later that he'd made time to pull on his swim trunks.
"It's hard to explain how you feel about your son after that," Karen said a year later. "I'm so proud of him. Even more after what he's endured ever since."
Ryan's exploits have become a footnote to his endurance, a high point at the beginning of his journey from heroism to heartache. In the days after Sandy, he and his family evacuated to temporary housing an hour away in downtown Brooklyn.
His storied community was a wreck.
Broad Channel has been home to New York's rescue workers -- firefighters, police, military and medical -- for generations; getaway neighborhoods of beach bungalows converted into permanent homes.
It sits along the Rockaway Peninsula, which juts into the Atlantic Ocean with majestic views of Manhattan's signature skyline. Dee Dee Ramone, who combed its beaches here as a child, famously sang about "Rock Rock Rockaway Beach."
The sun is out, I want some
It's not hard, not far to reach
We can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach
In the days after Sandy crashed ashore, the sun did seem out of reach. The historic community was awash with water from a bay, an ocean and even a massive sewage treatment plant that overflowed into Ryan's school, Scholars' Academy. It was one of the worst hit among the 1,750 schools so badly damaged by Sandy that the New York City school system -- the nation's largest -- closed for several days for the first time in recent memory.
Immediately after the storm, Ryan's house looked fine from the outside, though a boat had floated onto the adjacent lawn. But inside, a lifetime of memories were soaked with saltwater, the foundation was soggy and the walls were quickly crawling with mold.
A family home rebuilt, then destroyed
Despite the damage, it was the Panetta family's lifelong home, so they began rebuilding at once.
The family moved to a temporary apartment in Brooklyn where Ryan and his two brothers and sister would rise before dawn for a trip to the closest school bus stop, where private bus companies had been enlisted to fill in for the 300 lost in the storm. A half-hour later, the children were sitting in workrooms and auditoriums and even hallways, crammed into every available space in already crowded schools around the city that had welcomed 73,000 displaced kids.
When school wrapped at 3 p.m., they would make an hourlong commute to their wounded home, pulling out dirty wet clothes, useless appliances and furniture, and photo memories that would never be recovered.
The Panetta family wasn't alone: More than half the Scholars' Academy students had also lost homes, even the principal and many of the teachers. "It was heartbreaking to watch that kid and so many others," said Principal Brian O'Connell, who also lost his home. "But they remained so resilient."
"It's just too much," Ryan said one day, breaking into tears at his desk in the temporary school. The teachers did their best to not miss a beat, but scattered friends and families, lost notebooks and lost books crippled the learning process for Ryan. He feared he might not keep up.
Then 2013 rolled around and Ryan had "the best day ever" when the Scholar's Academy reopened, with students wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words, "Rockaway Resilient."
With the ups came the downs. Six months after Ryan and his family started banging away at new wall supports and installing drywall in their wounded home, the city condemned the house and the menacing claws of a giant excavator chewed Ryan's birthplace to pieces.
"I would want to be here to see it but I didn't know it was going to be so tough," said Ryan, as machinery put an end to efforts to save their family home.