Families Return to Breezy Point After Devastating Fire During Hurricane Sandy Destroys 111 Houses

NY Daily News - November 01, 2012

by Clare Trapasso

Though there were only a few minor injuries reported among residents and firefighters, officials have not ruled out the possibility that there may have been fatalities in the tight-knit waterfront community.

Dozens of families returned to the tight-knit community of Breezy Point on the western edge of the Rockaway peninsula in Queens on Wednesday to assess the damage. They were confronted with scenes of utter devastation, with many houses still smoldering.

Homes that did not burn had major flood damage, and houses on waterfront suffered wind damage, with some homes blown off their foundations and smashed together.

Of the 2,800 homes in Breezy Point, 111 homes were completely destroyed, an FNDY officials said Wednesday. And 20 homes had some level of fire damage.

Though there were only a few minor injuries reported among residents and firefighters, officials have not ruled out the possibility that there may have been fatalities in Breezy Point, said Joe Downey, FDNY chief of special operations, who was conducting search and recovery on Wednesday.

The cause of the inferno, to which more than 200 firefighters responded, remains unclear, fire officials said.

Linda Strong, 59, a school secretary who has lived full time in Breezy Point for 37 years, said she and her son sunk $400,000 to renovate their home. The renovation was finished in August 2011.

"I'm trying to be strong," she said. "We wanted to build a bigger, nicer home."

"We will rebuild again because we love the community," Strong added. She and her son, John Strong, evacuated on Sunday with just a few things because they believed they would be returning soon.

"I thought we'd have water damage. That's it," she said. "This is beyond, beyond what we expected."

"This was my dream house," she said, noting that she and her son saved up for 10 years to pay for the renovation.

The only thing they found and they rummaged through the charred remains of the house on Wednesday was one live plant.

"We had it bad but we didn't lose anybody," said John Strong, 36, an IT worker. "We're trying to take it one step at a time."

For Dave and Regina Hegarty, both 69, the memories go back even further. They live in Garden City, L.I., and have had a summer home in Breezy Point since 1978. Dave is a retired teacher and Regina is a retired school guidance counselor.

On Wednesday, they combed through the black pit of sludge where they bungalow once stood. All they could see was the outline of the foundation.

The couple met in Breezy Point when Regina was 16 and Dave was 17. They fell in love and eventually got married.

"It's our roots," Dave Hegarty said. "We raised our five sons here. They were lifeguards in the summer."

Every year, they spent four months in Breezy Point. "It's 4 months of good friends," he said.

They recently restored the 1930s-style, one-story bungalow and vowed to rebuild again.

"We're going to rebuild even if we have to do it by hand," Regina Hegarty said.

Lt. Michael Scotko, 23, a volunteer firefighter in Breezy Point, has lived in Breezy Point his entire life and he was among those who responded to the fire.

"Everything was burning. It was like the apocalypse," Scotko said. "The worst part of it was none of the fire hydrants worked."

"We could see it burning for about an hour and a half before we even got here," he said, noting the area was blocked due to high tides.

"This could have taken out all of Breezy."

"Everything was burning around you," Scotko said. And the waves were so high that, "anyone that tried to get out of their house would be swept away by water."

"There were waves breaking against the houses," he said. "It was just like total destruction watching everything burn."

Kiernan Carly, 22, a volunteer firefighter and bartender, said his home was flooded but didn't burn.

"It was a giant blaze. It looked like a war zone," Carly said. "We were walking through 3 to 4 feet of water to get to the fire and try to find fire hydrants that had pressure in them."

"It's a mess now. But it will look beautiful in a couple of months," he said.