A retired Irish American firefighter Brian Kelly has told of his incredible escape from the waters of Hurricane Sandy and his frustration about the lack of help.
Kelly, from Belle Harbor in the Rockaways, was speaking to New York Daily News columnist Denis Hamill about his narrow escape
“I live on Beach 142nd St. in a two-story, wood-framed house which is seven houses up from the beach,” he told Hamill. “Only two or three families on the block left before Hurricane Sandy because during Hurricane Irene, we weathered it fine. The water rose up from the ocean but stopped shy of my house with that one. We were tracking Sandy on Monday afternoon on the radar and it looked like it was gonna hit Jersey bad but the worst would miss us.”
So, Kelly was at home with his wife, Jennifer, their kids Caroline, 12, Claudia, 8, and Colin, 4, and his wife's dad, Ron, 78.
“My father-in-law was reading a book and we had a roaring fire in the fireplace and I was playing Uno with the kids and having a good time,” Kelly says.
Then the sky darkened and the storm began.
“All the neighbors poured into the street, sweeping leaves to clear the sewers,” Kelly says. “But the winds grew worse and the water surged and rose, and when it became completely dark we knew sweeping leaves wasn’t going to do anything about this one. We retreated to our porches and, when I saw the water start to rush up my driveway, I ran into the house and down into the basement to make sure it was watertight.”
“First I saw just a little water in the basement but couldn’t tell from where,” he says. “I started putting towels down. But then, when I saw the water crashing against my basement windows, I knew this was serious. The exhaust pipe of my boiler suddenly filled with water.
Then I knew, as a firefighter who understands danger, that this was dead serious.”
“Bam,” he told Hamill. “The windows gave out. One by one by one. The water rushed in. Scary. Then I saw it rushing through a basement wall. When it got up around my knees I rushed upstairs. The lights died. As the water filled the basement and started bursting up through the floorboards of the first floor, I grabbed my kids and we rushed out of the house. I was sure my wood-framed house was going to get ripped apart. Time to flee. Kids first."
“I had my kids climb on my back and I literally swam up through the surging chest-high waters of my street,” Kelly says. “My car floated away. We made it to a neighbor’s brick house. I got the kids inside. Then I went back for my father-in-law and swam him up to the brick house. Then I went back for my wife.”
They waited for help. “It didn’t come,” he told Hamill. “Listen, I was a firefighter, I know relief doesn’t happen overnight. But we’re four days out now. I’m staying with relatives in Staten Island. I drive back to Rockaway every day because I’m afraid of my house getting robbed. In that time I haven’t seen any help in Rockaway. There are some city cops. I saw just two city garbage trucks. I saw the National Guard drive by a few times. But I’m still waiting for the guard, FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, Red Cross to set up shop in Rockaway and start helping people back to a life. I’m not seeing it.”
“It’s insane. I lost one car in the storm. I’m going back to Rockaway today to siphon gas out of an old car I have in my garage so I can commute back and forth from Staten Island to guard my home in Rockaway, and the mayor has resources for all these runners, many from out of town, but not for tax-paying homeowners whose homes have been destroyed like mine in Rockaway. Something’s wrong.”
Kelly says he still didn’t see any real help in his section of Rockaway by Friday night.
“I worked with pumps all day pumping out my home,” he says. “There was no cell service. There are some Police and Fire Department personnel and city Sanitation men working to clean up the streets. But National Guard patrols at night slowed down. A FEMA adjuster came to my house so I could put a claim in. But no federal aid or services or supplies yet. No water, no food, except at St. Francis Church, which seems to be the main aid to this part of Rockaway. I’m not sure if other people are getting these services down here but I sure don’t see it. Yet…”