Instead of running his first marathon, Akil Defour of Brooklyn climbed 20 flights of stairs in a building without power or heat in Far Rockaway, Queens, to deliver water, blankets and peanut butter sandwiches.
"I knew I wanted to volunteer after they canceled the marathon," said Defour, 30, who put in five hours of work with his running team. "We decided it would be easier for us athletes to go up and down the buildings."
On Staten Island, where the marathon course begins, the runners with backpacks emerged from the ferry for a quick, emotional briefing.
"The devastation and damage you are about to wander into," said Staten Island resident Jonscott Turco, who paused, almost teary. "It's pretty extraordinary. The only thing I can prepare you for is they're still finding people, remains."
The landscape worsened as they approached the waterfront. Shuttered gas stations. Long gas lines, with people asleep in their cars.
One man honked and yelled, "There's no marathon! Go home!" But people standing outside one deli yelled encouragement: "Thank you, ladies!" ''God is good!"
Near the water, there were no traffic lights and far more sirens. Houses looked like they had been sacked. Furniture was in front yards, washing machines, TVs.
But one man came out of his home and asked if the runners had flashlights, and they did. At another house, a family wearing face masks asked for batteries and sweatshirts. They said, "God bless you." The man said, "Let me take your picture."
Mary Wittenberg, the president of the New York Road Runners, which organizes the marathon, helped deliver food to a Staten Island family whose house was heavily damaged. "There are so many more suffering in our community who need our collective, undivided attention and all the resources we can muster," the NYRR said in a statement Sunday.
For runner Hana Abdo, the scene was striking. When she found out the marathon had been canceled, "I was almost in tears because I've been training for two years," she said.
"But what is two years of my life to somebody's whole life?"
Associated Press writer Melissa Murphy contributed.