Skip to main content

80 homes destroyed by New York fire amid superstorm

From Deborah Feyerick, CNN
October 30, 2012 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Among the 80 homes destroyed was that of New York Rep. Bob Turner
  • "The winds were just devastating, blowing from one building to another," mayor says
  • "It was terrible," resident Steve Mastrandrea says
  • Powerful cold front brought rain, winds and a tornado to same area in Queens last month

New York (CNN) -- An inferno spread across a flooded neighborhood of Rockaway Peninsula in Queens early Tuesday, torching at least 80 homes as a potent mix of weather blasted the region.

Some 200 firefighters battled the six-alarm blaze in Breezy Point, which was fed by high winds and made more perilous by downed electrical wires, according to witnesses and local authorities.

"The winds were just devastating, blowing from one building to another," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news conference.

By daybreak, emergency personnel and local volunteers could be seen sloshing through flooded streets to put out patches of remaining flames while others assessed what had been lost.

Waking up to floods, fires and darkness after Sandy

Fire authorities reported three people were injured by Superstorm Sandy, though all injuries were considered minor.

"It was terrible," said Steve Mastrandrea, a Breezy Point resident and volunteer firefighter, who said he was "trying to give a helping hand and ... got trapped."

Fires force evacuations in Queens
NJ governor: Sandy impact 'terrifying'
Massive waves wash over New Jersey homes

"We couldn't help anybody," he said. "I couldn't even help myself."

Floodwaters engulfed Mastrandrea's home and began to rise from his basement as the fire raged outside.

"We couldn't tell if the fires were 100 yards or a mile away," he said. "It was just so bright. I couldn't tell where it was.

"I thought we were going to have to jump in the water," he added.

Mastrandrea's home was largely destroyed as he fled with his family to higher ground.

"There's nothing here," he said. "Our homes can always be rebuilt. As long as we have our lives and we're safe."

The National Guard and other emergency personnel fanned out across the neighborhood. It's not clear what started the fire.

People rescued from roofs of trailer homes in New Jersey

"I'm not sure where to go from here besides calling the insurance company," said resident Richard Kohlbrecher. "I've been down here most of my life. Through 'the Perfect Storm' ... the water got deep, but nothing like this."

The "Perfect Storm" is a reference to a 1991 "nor'easter" that got absorbed in Hurricane Grace, which then wreaked havoc along the East Coast and killed about a dozen people.

Meanwhile, some described the scene in Breezy Point as one of "total destruction."

"There is nothing in this one cluster of homes," resident T.J. Gilmartin told CNN. "And every house along the side that's still up is damaged. ... Even the sidewalk is ripped up."

Among the 80 homes destroyed was that of Bob Turner, a New York congressman.

"I, along with many other Breezy Point residents, lost our homes last night and I am grateful that my family and I are safe after this destructive storm," Turner said. " I hope you will join me in lending a hand to those who were less fortunate and keep everyone impacted by this storm in your thoughts and prayers."

In September, the same area endured severe weather as a powerful cold front brought heavy rain, high winds and a tornado into the beachfront neighborhood of New York City.

CNN's Ashley Killough contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Superstorm Sandy
November 5, 2012 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
A mother learns that her newborn is part of a hospital evacuation. Facebook posts from a member of the HMS Bounty turn ominous. A man worries about the wind and rain, but another force of nature hits home.
November 29, 2012 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
Tourists become volunteer rescue workers. The connected provide power outlets and Wi-Fi. Performers lift spirits. Photographers preserve images. Doctors work overtime to keep hospitals running and patients alive.
Get to know the victims of Superstorm Sandy through our interactive feature.
November 30, 2012 -- Updated 1542 GMT (2342 HKT)
It has been in operation only since October 30, but the Facebook page for "Giving back to those affected by Sandy" has a longer timeline than most Facebook members.
November 25, 2012 -- Updated 2007 GMT (0407 HKT)
It's important to remember that even as the effect of Superstorm Sandy recedes from the news, there are still devastated areas that are without electricity, heat or hot water.
November 24, 2012 -- Updated 1646 GMT (0046 HKT)
The rapper 50 Cent brought a little holiday cheer and Thanksgiving food to New Yorkers hit hard by Superstorm Sandy.
November 21, 2012 -- Updated 1710 GMT (0110 HKT)
Our AmeriCares "Operation Muck-Out" team immediately got to work, ripping out the interior walls and removing the insulation until only wooden beams were standing.
November 20, 2012 -- Updated 1719 GMT (0119 HKT)
Ashley Murray became the first female president of Liberty Industrial Gases and Welding Supplies Inc. in Brooklyn. But now the family history Murray was charged with preserving is at risk of ending after Superstorm Sandy.
Truckloads of donations from across the country, carrying everything from bottled water to diapers, are arriving at places of worship.
November 20, 2012 -- Updated 1716 GMT (0116 HKT)
The adage says "a picture is worth a thousand words," but when Leeann Lewandowski happened upon a photograph of her late mother on Facebook after her home was destroyed in Superstorm Sandy, she was speechless.
November 2, 2012 -- Updated 1652 GMT (0052 HKT)
Roots ripped out of the ground as a large oak tree fell toward Olga Raymond's front door. With it came a power line.
iReporters share their photos, videos and stories of living in the path of the superstorm.
ADVERTISEMENT