The mother grabbed her two boys and fled their home as it filled with water, hoping to outrun Superstorm Sandy.
But Glenda Moore and her SUV were no match for the epic storm. Moore's Ford Explorer stalled in the rising tide, and the rushing waters snatched 2-year-old Brandon and 4-year-old Connor from her arms as they tried to escape.
The youngsters' bodies were recovered from a marsh Thursday — the latest, most gut-wrenching blow in New York's Staten Island, an isolated city borough hard-hit by the storm and yet, residents say, largely forgotten by federal officials assessing damage of the monster storm that has killed more than 90 people in 10 states.
"Terrible, absolutely terrible," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said as he announced the boys' bodies had been found on the third day of a search that included police divers and sniffer dogs. "It just compounds all the tragic aspects of this horrific event."
The heartbreaking discovery came as residents and public officials complained that help has been frustratingly slow to arrive on stricken Staten Island, where 19 have been killed — nearly half the death toll of all of New York City.
Garbage is piling up, a stench hangs in the air and mud-caked mattresses and couches line the streets. Residents are sifting through the remains of their homes, searching for anything that can be salvaged.
"We have hundreds of people in shelters," said James Molinaro, the borough's president. "Many of them, when the shelters close, have nowhere to go because their homes are destroyed. These are not homeless people. They're homeless now."
Molinaro complained the American Red Cross "is nowhere to be found" — and some residents questioned what they called the lack of a response by government disaster relief agencies. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Federal Emergency Management Agency Deputy Administrator Richard Serino planned to tour the island on Friday.
Four days after Sandy lashed the East Coast with high winds and a huge storm surge, frustration mounted across New York City and well beyond as millions of people remained without power and motorists lined up for hours at gas stations in New Jersey and New York.
In the city's Queens borough, a man was accused of pulling a gun Thursday on a motorist who complained when he cut in line at a gas station; no one was injured. And as the Friday morning commute began, long lines at gas stations in suburban Westchester County snaked along expressway breakdown lanes and exit ramps.
There were hopeful signs, though, that life would soon begin to return to something approaching normal.
Consolidated Edison, the power company serving New York, said electricity should be restored by Saturday to customers in Manhattan and to homes and offices served by underground power lines in Brooklyn. More subway and rail lines were expected to open Friday, including Amtrak' New York to Boston route on the Northeast Corridor.
But the prospect of better times ahead did little to mollify residents who spent another day and night in the dark.
"It's too much. You're in your house. You're freezing," said Geraldine Giordano, 82, a lifelong resident of the West Village. Near her home, city employees had set up a sink where residents could get fresh water, if they needed it. There were few takers. "Nobody wants to drink that water," Giordano said.
"Everybody's tired of it already," added Rosemarie Zurlo, a makeup artist who once worked on Woody Allen movies. She said she planned to temporarily abandon her powerless, unheated apartment in the West Village to stay with her sister in Brooklyn. "I'm leaving because I'm freezing. My apartment is ice cold."
There was increasing concern about the outage's impact on elderly residents. Community groups have been going door-to-door on the upper floors of darkened Manhattan apartment buildings, and city workers and volunteer in hard-hit Newark, N.J., delivered meals to seniors and others stuck in their buildings.
"It's been mostly older folks who aren't able to get out," said Monique George of Manhattan-based Community Voices Heard. "In some cases, they hadn't talked to folks in a few days. They haven't even seen anybody because the neighbors evacuated. They're actually happy that folks are checking, happy to see another person. To not see someone for a few days, in this city, it's kind of weird."
Along the devastated Jersey Shore and New York's beachfront communities, a lack of electricity was the least of anyone's worries.
Residents were allowed back in their neighborhoods Thursday for the first time since Sandy made landfall Monday night. Some were relieved to find only minor damage, but many others were wiped out. "A lot of tears are being shed today," said Dennis Cucci, whose home near the ocean in Point Pleasant Beach sustained heavy damage. "It's absolutely mind-boggling."
After touring a flood-ravaged area of northeastern New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie said it was time to act, not mourn.
"We're in the 'triage and attack phase' of the storm, so we can restore power, reopen schools, get public transportation back online and allow people to return to their homes if they've been displaced," he said.
In Staten Island, police recounted Glenda Moore's fruitless struggle to save her children.
Kelly said the 39-year-old mother "was totally, completely distraught" after she lost her grip on her sons shortly after 6 p.m. Monday. In a panic, she climbed fences and went door-to-door looking in vain for help in a neighborhood that was presumably largely abandoned in the face of the storm.
She eventually gave up, spending the night trying to shield herself from the storm on the front porch of an empty home.