NY Post - October 31, 2012by REUVEN FENTON and DAN MACLEOD
The idyllic beachfront community of Breezy Point, Queens, was laid bare by a devastating fire -- fueled by Hurricane Sandy's 70-mph winds -- that destroyed 111 houses and damaged another 20 as surging floodwaters initially kept firefighters at bay.
Emergency crews had to contend with the flooding, wind and low fire-hydrant pressure for nearly 12 hours to douse the horrifying six-alarm blaze, which kicked up around 11 p.m. Monday.
It may have initially started as an electrical fire that quickly jumped from house to house, officials said.
Thomas and Missy Rom and their four kids, among the handful of residents who defied evacuation orders, narrowly escaped.
"We saw the water rising and said, 'We can fight water.' But when the fire came, we knew we couldn't fight," said Thomas. "We saw houses on fire, and the fire was jumping from one house to the next. That's when we left."
Thomas pushed his son on a surfboard to flee to a neighbor's house. Then they had to escape as the flames spread to that home.
Yesterday, the Roms dug through the rubble that used to be their home.
"We just wanted to see if there's anything left," Thomas said. "There isn't -- it's just memories now. I built this house 20 years ago and now I saw the end of it."
Tom Hammill, 60, lived on Fulton Walk with his wife and two daughters. Now all that remains of his house is the back porch.
"I came here to say goodbye. I could see from afar that nothing was left standing. This is total devastation," he said yesterday.
The storm surge made it impossible for firefighters to immediately get to the isolated neighborhood at the tip of the Rockaway Peninsula. The flames broke out around high tide, when streets were filled with five feet of water.
"Our trucks were initially unable to move due to the flooding. When the water stared to recede, we started working in the area," said Marty Ingram, chief of Breezy Point's Volunteer Fire Department, which works with the FDNY.
"With the wind, it was like a blowtorch last night. It happened at the peak of the tide. We couldn't move in. It destroyed five blocks."
At one point, more than 30 cops who normally would have responded, were stranded inside the 100th Precinct station house by floodwaters, and could not escape using the city-provided rowboats due to a strong current.
"It was no different from when you saw the pictures on TV of [ Hurricane] Katrina -- the streets just became rivers," said one law-enforcement source.
And Mayor Bloomberg said that motorboats could not be used.
"We had plenty of motor boats; they just can't go where the water isn't very deep," said Bloomberg.
Nearly 200 firefighters battled the blaze, and some residents had to be rescued by boat.
Miraculously, FDNY Commissioner Sal Cassano reported yesterday, there were no serious injuries or reports of missing people.
"The worst thing I saw like this was the Trade Center. I never saw anything like this in 34 years on the job. This looks like Berlin in WWII," said FDNY Deputy Assistant Chief Jack Mooney.
"The city was just strapped. It was an impossible night."
Additional reporting by Larry Celona, Jessica Simeone and Sally Goldenberg