On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy tore through the heavily Irish Rockaway Peninsula, particularly Breezy Point, which suffered unprecedented devastation not only from the storm but from a massive fire that night that destroyed dozens of homes. But the locals are nothing if not resilient, and though Breezy and the Rockaways are far from whole again, the rebuilding is well underway. Irish pride is all over the place in Breezy and the Rockaways, and Guinness and the Irish Voice are proud to salute those who continue to battle the storm’s aftermath.
Here, Breezy Point leaders and representatives of New York City’s fire, sanitation and police departments share their thoughts on the storm that will never be forgotten.
"THE wind, water and fire have passed, but the storm Hurricane Sandy began on October 29, 2012 continues to wreak havoc today on the citizens of Breezy Point, the most Irish American community in the U.S. But we are resilient, and we are determined to rebuild our homes and community.
The government has made it difficult to rebuild with new laws, and withholding money, yet we still continue to push ahead and rebuild. Every day a new home is erected, and a business reopens stronger than before. Our fire department has increased in numbers and our firehouse is bigger and better than ever.
Some believe our spirits have been broken. I say to them you could not be more wrong. We are better than ever before. We are strong. We are Irish."
- JOHN FAHY
Chief of Department, Point Breeze Volunteer Fire Department
"AS we reflect on the aftermath of Sandy, and look around the Breezy Point community of 2,800 plus homes, it is clearly obvious that our families will not be kept down. Reconstruction of homes totally destroyed by either fire or flood, and many others severely damaged, literally dot the landscape. At last count 95 homes are being rebuilt, 46 of which are in the fire zone alone. Inside the rest of the cooperative in excess of 100 additional filings have been submitted the Department of Buildings, and have been or are waiting for their approval to start work.
This is just one example of Breezy’s resilience, fortitude and determination to restore our community. Though not done yet, we have come a long way since that night in October 2012, and with determination will be back better than before."
- ARTHUR LIGHTHALL
General Manager, Breezy Point Cooperative
"ON October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy ravaged our small beach community of Roxbury, Breezy Point. Roxbury is bordered by the Rockaway inlet to the north and the Atlantic Ocean on the south.
Sandy’s heavy rain and winds accompanied by the moon tide created the worst scenario for the perfect storm that night. Not long after the hurricane hit our entire peninsula was under water. The force of the pounding waves and high tides washed away homes and caused many to buckle and collapse.
Homeowners returning the day after could not believe the devastation. Residents had to find suitable lodging for their families. Children also had to be relocated into other schools. Homes were lost or heavily damaged, personal property destroyed and memories shattered.
Hurricane Sandy also ignited a fire the magnitude of which devoured over 100 homes. The losses from this storm are insurmountable. Today some residents are still struggling to receive help to rebuild.
Our fire department in Roxbury became a make-shift shelter and supermarket for weary homeowners. For months we collected items and served breakfast, lunch and dinners to the volunteers and workers helping in the clean up efforts. Our beach side community resembled a war zone. Debris was everywhere.
Even though our community was devastated and will take years to recover, we realize that we are fortunate and blessed that no lives were lost in our community as a result of the storm."
- DICK COLLERAN
Chief of Department, Roxbury Volunteer Fire Department
"HURRICANE Sandy will forever be embedded in my mind as well as the members of the Rockaway Point Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Corps. These members worked diligently to follow pre-planned guidelines, to execute procedure above average limits, and to attend to the needs of the community, while rebuilding our homes along with our fire house.
The spirit of Breezy Point since the storm, has remained optimistic and strong. We remains extremely grateful for all the help we received, but we still have a long way to go. The community, along with our members, struggles financially and mentally to recover.
Concerns about the price of insurance increasing and even the wait for claims made from the storm. Also the length of time spent waiting for permits to go through. These are just a few of the struggles that the community faces. "
- MATTHEW PICCIONE
Chief of Department, Rockaway Point Volunteer Fire Department
"ON Monday, October 29, 2012, 11 officers of the Breezy Point Cooperative security force, despite a mandatory evacuation order by the City of New York, bravely volunteered to remain on duty. While some officers were assigned to the Emergency Command Center, others manned the main control booth to activate the evacuation siren system and dispatch units to emergency calls and calls for assistance from cooperative shareholders.
Our officers worked heroically throughout the day and night without regard for their personal safety, and put themselves in harm’s way to assist shareholders in evacuating and in several cases rescuing them from rapidly rising flood waters. Due to their unprecedented efforts 30 shareholders were rescued that night from this horrific and historic storm.
Their selfless act of bravery has gone unnoticed for the most part, and it is comforting to know that a company like Guinness recognizes their efforts and the contribution these officers made that night. Given the same circumstances I have no doubt that they would do the same thing again without hesitation or consideration for their own welfare. "
- DENNIS DIER
Chief of Security, Breezy Point Cooperative
"AS I drove around Breezy Point the day after the storm, I couldn’t help but think “We are those people.” The victims of hurricanes and floods you would see on TV.
After surveying the property under very difficult conditions, the management team met up at the Breezy Point Cooperative Office, along with the Office of Emergency Management, to try to come up with some sort of game plan for beginning restoration of the property. My main responsibility, as general foreman, is maintaining the water system on the property.
My crew’s objectives were to stabilize the water mains. We worked many long and strenuous hours, along with the assistance from the Department of Environmental Protection, to isolate sections of the water system in order to begin repairs.
After putting in a full day of work, I had to face the reality of checking on my own home. I found that we had lost everything on the first floor. Despite four feet of water throughout the first floor, our foundation was structurally sound.
I remember thinking to myself that after seeing the condition of the rest of Breezy Point we were lucky. While it would take us over six months before we could return to our home, at least we were fortunate enough to have a home to return to.
In the weeks that followed, we were able to restore the water system. We concentrated our efforts on removal of trees and debris and began restoration of cooperative buildings.
Of the 30 Field Department employees, 18 had their homes damaged by the storm. Each day we would put in many long hours on the property, and at the end of the day return to our homes to continue repairs. This schedule continued for many days and weeks to follow after the storm.
In Breezy Point you will find many first, second and third generation Irish families. These are the people who over the last 200 years built this country.
We are no different than our ancestors. We work hard and take care of each other. We have strong Christian values which reinforce this belief.
Whether its helping gut a home, repair a deck, or simply listening to someone else’s troubles, this is how we are. We are Breezy Strong."
- MIKE FLANIGAN
General Foreman, Field Department, Breezy Point Cooperative
"OVER the years we had risen to many difficult challenges. The nor’easter of 1991, 9/11, Flight 587, countless blizzards and local emergencies all served to fill us with confidence and a sense of duty.
During the week preceding Hurricane Sandy, we prepared our equipment and our homes for what was promised to be an event of epic proportions. The storm hit us with a fury that no one living had ever seen.
Twenty-seven Department of Sanitation workers from our local district, QE 14, were rendered homeless by the tempest. We converted our gymnasium into a bunk room where many of our displaced co-workers lived, in order that they might continue to aid in the recovery efforts. Our personal cars were taken by the sea, so we walked to work.
Let it never be said that we, the Department of Sanitation, New York City, gave any less than the full measure of our abilities."
- ED SHEVLIN
Dump Commander, Department of Sanitation, New York City
“SUPER Storm Sandy created challenges for the Department on every level, from our fire suppression and rescue efforts that night to the painstaking investigative work that followed.”
- SALVATORE CASSANO
“I CAN’T imagine it being much worse than what we saw here; the damage we saw here. During the course of the night, we wound up pulling eight civilians out of water from in front of the station house. It’s mind-boggling to see that, and the devastation is unbelievable.”
- SCOTT OLEXA
NYPD Deputy Inspector, former commander of the 100th Precinct in Rockaway Beach.