Hurricane Sandy shut down public transit in New York City and much of New Jersey, left millions without electricity, and stranded thousands of people in their homes due to flooding. It also killed at least 33 people in the U.S. "We are in the midst of urban search and rescue. Our teams are moving as fast as they can," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said. "The devastation on the Jersey Shore is some of the worst we've ever seen. The cost of the storm is incalculable at this point." As millions of people affected by the so-called Frankenstorm struggled to cope, several inspiring tales of heroism emerged to lift spirits. Here, three daring rescues that helped prevent the storm from taking an even heavier human toll:

1. A harrowing helicopter rescue at sea
The crew of a replica of the HMS Bounty put out a distress call late Sunday, as the ship began taking on water in 18-foot waves off North Carolina. A Coast Guard plane spotted the wreck, and two rescue helicopters set out to help. As the pilot, Lt. Jane Pena, kept the first helicopter hovering over a life raft, rescue swimmer Dan Todd dropped into the roiling seas. "I jumped in and I said, 'Hey, I'm Dan. I heard you guys needed a ride," the Coast Guard rescuer said in an effort to calm down the panicked survivors. One by one, the two helicopters plucked 14 people from the raft and the sea. One crew member, Claudene Christian, died. Another, the captain, was swept away and remained missing on Tuesday.

2. Evacuating a battered hospital, one patient at a time
Using flashlights to guide them, employees and rescuers at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City evacuated some 260 patients when the facility's backup power source failed. Some of the patients had to be carried down 15 flights of stairs to waiting ambulances. Four newborns on respirators were carried down nine flights, with nurses squeezing breathing bags by hand all the way down. NYU didn't expect massive flooding, so failed to evacuate all of its patients before the storm, as it had in Hurricane Irene a year ago. But on Monday, Sandy filled the hospital's basement, lower floors, and elevator shafts with 10 to 12 feet of water, causing power failure. "Things went downhill very, very rapidly, and very unexpectedly," says Dr. Andrew Brotman, a senior vice president at the hospital. "The flooding was just unprecedented."

3. The firefighters who rescued apartment dwellers... by boat
A massive fire destroyed 80 to 100 houses in the flooded beachfront neighborhood of Breezy Point on New York's Rockaway peninsula in Queens. With electrical wires dangling and chest-high water filling the streets, more than 190 firefighters converged to help extinguish the blaze. The firefighters had to use a boat to rescue the people trapped inside the burning buildings. They pulled 25 people out of an upstairs unit in one apartment building, climbing over an awning to reach the stranded residents, then carrying them downstairs to the boat.

Sources: ABC News, Associated Press, CBS News, CNN