They stepped in the wrong puddle. They walked the dog at the wrong moment. Or they did exactly what all the emergency experts instructed them to do - they huddled inside and waited for its anger to go away.
The storm found them all.
Hurricane Sandy, in the wily and savage way of natural disasters, expressed its full assortment of lethal methods as it hit the US East Coast on Monday night. In its howling sweep, the authorities said the storm claimed at least 39 lives in eight states.
They were infants and adolescents, people embarking on careers and those looking back on them — the ones who paid the price of this most destructive of storms. In Franklin Township, Pennsylvania, an eight-year-old boy was crushed by a tree when he ran outside to check on his family's calves. A woman died in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, when her car slid off a snowy road.
There were 18 deaths reported in New York City, where the toll was heaviest, and five more fatalities elsewhere in the state.
Most of all, it was the trees. Uprooted or cracked by the furious winds, they became weapons that flattened cars, houses and pedestrians.
But also, a woman was killed by a severed power line. A man was swept by flooding waters out of his house and through the glass of a store. The power blinked off for a 75-year-old woman on a respirator, and a heart attack killed her. Three people, aged 50, 57 and 72, were found drowned in separate basements in the Rockaways.
And the storm left its share of mysteries.
A parking lot attendant was found dead in a subterranean parking garage in TriBeCa, the precise cause unclear. The body of an unidentified woman washed up on Georgia Beach in East Hampton, on Long Island.
Some people died and no one knew, not for hours, not until the storm backed away and moved on.
One couple did what dog owners do. They walked the dog. Jessie Streich-Kest was 24 and Jacob Vogelman was 23. They were friends living in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. About 8pm on Monday, during the howling viciousness of the storm, they ventured out with her dog, Max, a white pit bull mix.
According to his LinkedIn page, Vogelman was a student at Brooklyn College. Streich-Kest grew up with her family in Prospect Park South and was a teaching fellow. She had just started teaching at the Bushwick School for Social Justice, a high school. She had gone through her first parent-teacher conference last week, and was laughing about it afterward swith her parents and their friends.
Her father, Jon Kest, is executive director of New York Communities for Change and a longtime activist who has led the battle to unionise carwashes and supermarkets across the city, as well as being a leader in the battle for paid sick days. His daughter was herself a bit of an activist, and helped organise Stop Horse Abuse, which was aimed at the carriage horses in Central Park.
In the wind and the rain, the friends strode along Ditmas Avenue, a block of old Victorians and similar sprawling homes beneath a canopy of vast maples, oaks and lindens.
In rapid succession, perhaps within a space of no more than a half-hour, the brutal winds knocked down three trees. There was a booming sound as one fell. Their roots tore up massive chunks of sidewalk.
One of the trees on the south side of the block crushed Streich-Kest and Vogelman. Their bodies were not found until Tuesday morning.
No one realised that the trees had hit anyone.
"We had no idea," said Pat Atia, whose house faces out onto Ditmas Avenue on the block between East 17th and East 18th Streets.
The dog was bruised and was being cared for at an animal shelter.
Lola wanted pictures. In Richmond Hill, Queens, a power line the length of a block on 105th Avenue between 134th and 135th Streets snapped and crumpled to the ground. The frayed end of the line began sparking wildly.
About 8pm on Monday, according to witnesses and a friend, a 23-year-old woman who lived at the end of the block came out to her driveway clutching a camera.
Her name was Lauren Abraham, but she went by Lola. She was a licensed make-up artist who maintained a makeup studio in the basement of the house, which her parents owned. She used the third floor as a makeshift photography studio for shots to advertise her makeup skills.
Elpidio Nunez, a close friend for 10 years, said she was passionate about making her friends look gorgeous before a night out at the clubs.
"She was a beautiful girl, very carefree, she was never depressed," Nunez said on the steps to her house. "I had never seen her cry."
Tamica Penn, 22, her best friend, said, "If you ever needed to talk, she would be there."
The two had spoken at 7 pm. The line was still sparking as Abraham walked down the driveway and into the rain-drenched street. She came into contact with one end of the snapped wire.
She caught fire.
A half-dozen or so witnesses watched in utter horror. Nunez woke up in the middle of the night. He had a sick feeling that something was very wrong. He sent text messages to Abraham to see if she was all right. Nothing came back.
They did what they were supposed to, what they thought would get them safely through it.
North Salem in upper Westchester County is horse country, and it has estates owned by the well-off, but it is mainly a working-class town dotted with winterised bungalows.
Jack Baumler, 11, was a sixth-grader known as a star shortstop in the local Little League. Michael Robson, 13, was his best friend and neighbour down Bonnieview Street.
Valerie Baumler, Jack's mother, had a wood-frame cottage along Peach Lake, and the boys were spending the night together, along with two other boys.
They were watching television, the winds pounding outside, when the hurricane uprooted an enormous tree. It ripped through the roof of the compact cottage. Jack and Michael were killed.
"I lost my son," Valerie Baumler wailed to Danny Seymour, Jack's uncle, as she clasped him. "I lost my son."
The two other boys escaped with mild injuries. Baumler was unhurt.
"We lost two beautiful young boys last night," said Seymour, choking back tears outside the Baumler house. "Our hearts are broken; the pain is raw. We believe faith will carry us through. North Salem has a huge heart and they will wrap their arms around these two families."
Seymour was helping neighbours clear out the furnishings of the house. It was so severely damaged that a local policeman guarding the street said it may have to be demolished. On Tuesday morning, the tree was still deeply wedged into the cottage.
They did not want to get robbed.
Michael Abruzzo, 43, had lived for several years across the street from George Dresch and his family at the end of Yetman Avenue on Staten Island. The families attended the same church. They had each other's back.
"Good people" is how Abruzzo summed them up. "They watched our dog every time we went on vacation."
Abruzzo, an electrician who had lived in the neighbourhood for a decade, saw Dresch on Monday. Heeding warnings, Abruzzo had evacuated with his wife and two daughters on Sunday. He had returned to his house briefly to tackle some final chores.
Dresch told him that he, his wife, Pat, and their daughter, Angela, were going to sit out the storm. They weren't going anyplace.
"I said, 'Dude, why don't you go?"' Abruzzo told him. "'What's the point?"'
In advance of Tropical Storm Irene last year, both families had left, and Abruzzo said that their houses had been burgled. He thought that might be why Dresch wouldn't leave.
The storm punished Yetman Avenue. Huge waves crashed over it. The hurricane demolished both families' homes, as well as the homes of next door neighbours.
On Tuesday, all that remained of the Abruzzo home was its foundation. The Dresch home was a gaping hole in the ground.
The body of Angela Dresch, 13, was found about 100 yards from her house on Manhattan Street. Her mother was found, alive, a block to the north, and has been taken to hospital.
George Dresch is missing. On Tuesday afternoon, rescue workers spied a male body trapped in debris sandwiched between two nearby houses. They were trying to remove it so they could identify it.
"I was just with him," Abruzzo said in disbelief. "I told him to get out."
The New York Times