OCEAN BEACH, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Life has slowly, but surely, started to return to normal on hard-hit Fire Island.

As CBS 2’s Dana Tyler reported, four weeks after Superstorm Sandy slammed the Long Island barrier island in Suffolk County, dozens of kids finally returned to their school Monday. And they seemed happy about it.

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Excited elementary school pupils could not wait to hit the books again at the schoolhouse in Ocean Beach.

“It’s nice to be back and have our regular classroom and school,” said Sam Iessa, 11.

All over the island, tangled debris was still being cleared. Former Ocean Beach Mayor Joseph Loeffler could not believe the wreckage.

He said he stayed on Fire Island through the worst of Sandy, along with his dog, Delilah, and his daughter, Julian.

“We knew we couldn’t go down the street because the water was flowing too fast and too hard. There was too much water. So we wound up crossing the street and going through the backyard,” Loeffler said.

Fire Island was among the first areas to be ordered evacuated in advance of the storm. Afterward, the entire 32-mile-long island was submerged in chest-high water for a week, from ocean to bay.

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As many as 8 in 10 ocean-front homes on the island were left severely damaged, and the dunes that protected this barrier island and, in turn, the mainland were completely destroyed, leaving the homes that are still standing completely exposed for the next storm.

Since then, removing the debris has proved quite tough. One big obstacle is the narrow lanes, and town leaders said another is the the state, which forbids them from using heavy equipment to move sand along the beach.

“What I don’t understand is why the rest of from California, as you say, to New Jersey, can get bulldozers on the beach,” Ocean Beach Mayor Jimmy Mallott said.

The students probably know nothing about the complaint. They were just glad to be back to their old routines Monday, and so were their teachers.

“The students are all safe, and most have moved back to the island. A few of our families, unfortunately, still have to live on the mainland,” said teacher Gabrielle Donovan.

Not all of the students returned to school Monday. Some of their families have relocated outside the district, so they have enrolled elsewhere.

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