Bravest Boatlift Saves 61 on SI

NY Post - August 29, 2011


Firefighters dramatically saved 61 people -- including three babies -- from an inland Staten Island neighborhood yesterday, as 5-foot-deep water from a nearby lake suddenly burst into their homes.

The flash flood caught 21 homeowners in Bulls Head by surprise because their neighborhood wasn't part of the mandatory-evacuation zone.

"I was putting blankets and towels under the front door, trying to stop the flooding, but the pressure was so strong," said Lucy Bittar, 54.

"I was thinking I was going to drown. I started crying and panicked. I thought I was going to have a heart attack."

The surge started at 7 a.m. after Willowbrook Lake -- swollen by hours of pounding rain -- burst its banks.

"It was like a nightmare. My heart sank," said Frank Esposito, 56, who watched helplessly as water gushed into his basement.

"I tried to pump [it] out, but water was just cascading in there."

By 8:10 a.m., conditions were dire and a resident called 911.

Firefighters were on the scene by 8:12 and deployed three rescue boats.

"We evacuated a total of 21 houses. It was 61 people, and that included two very elderly and three infants, and several cats and dogs," said Fire Chief Richard Callery.

The water was high enough for firefighters to pull their boats right up to stoops so evacuees could step right into the rafts.

Additional reporting by Wilson Dizard and Ginger Adams Otis