And while towns fortify beaches and dunes and put up seawalls, rock barriers or even sand-filled fabric tubes to guard against future storms, state governments are readying hundreds of millions of dollars to buy out homeowners in flood-prone areas who want to leave.
"We've made a lot of progress in six months; I know we still have a long way to go," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said at a recent town-hall meeting. "By Memorial Day, every boardwalk that was destroyed at the Jersey shore will be rebuilt. Businesses are reopening. Rentals are picking up again, roads are back open."
Christie estimated 39,000 New Jersey families remain displaced, down from 161,000 the day after the storm. In New York, more than 250 families are still living in hotel rooms across New York paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, while others are still shacking up with relatives or living in temporary rentals.
Everyone simply wants to make their homes livable again, said Ray Marten, whose home in the Belle Harbor section of New York City's Queens borough burned down when a fire swept along his street during the storm, and whose family of six is renting a nearby house.
"If you go up my block now, all the houses have been demolished and removed," Marten said. "They're pretty much just holes in the ground. Sand pits."
Separation is the new reality for the Gatti family, a clan of several generations that shared the same three-story home near the ocean on Staten Island until Sandy destroyed it. The flood-soaked place was demolished months ago, and they're waiting for a government buyout. Now the family is scattered across New Jersey, New York and Texas.
"The whole family's separated," said Marge Gatti, the matriarch. "And it's terrible, you know?"
Her son, Anthony, recently drove a U-Haul packed with his meager belongings to Killeen, Texas, where he will start a new life as a car mechanic.
"Mentally, I'm not all that well in the head," said Anthony Gatti, who slept in a tent in front of the ruined home for weeks after the storm. "I know I've got to get some kind of help. I can't seem to shake it out of my life."
Ginjer Doherty was 9 when Sandy bubbled up through the floor of her Middletown, N.J., home and ripped off its front wall. She and her parents went to a firehouse a few days later to see Christie talk about what was being done to recover.
The governor comforted Ginjer, telling her she would be all right, that the grown-ups were on top of things and would take care of her. Ginjer recently had an essay published in Time magazine recalling the encounter and describing her life after Sandy.
"My house was all messed up, and people told us we couldn't stay there anymore," she wrote. "The governor told me not to worry -- that my parents would take care of everything -- and he looked very serious and sad, and he cried.
"Things are going O.K. for my family," she wrote. "We want to go back home, but rebuilding is going to take a long time. But we have a place to live for now. I even rescued a cat that was homeless after Sandy; I wanted him to be safe and loved like I feel."
In an interview with The Associated Press, Ginjer, now 10, said she is sad that her home won't be ready until October; her mom says it has been gutted and needs to be elevated.
Of the delay, Ginjer said simply, "It stinks."
Sandy also damaged interior areas, particularly those along rivers in northern New Jersey. Cities including Hoboken and Jersey City were inundated, and officials continue try seek exemptions for skyscrapers and large apartments from federal rules requiring flood-prone buildings to be elevated. George Stauble, whose Little Ferry house took in four feet of water, said FEMA payouts caused some rifts between neighbors.
"Everybody's house had pretty much the same amount of damage, but people are getting different amounts of money, and that's caused some problems," he said, adding some homeowners received as little as $8,000, while others received as much as $29,000.