A convoy of flatbed NYPD trucks cutting through floodwaters carried residents, some clutching their pets, from the fire-ravaged Queens community of Breezy Point Tuesday afternoon as the ruins of 100 homes still smoldered.
Entire blocks of homes and businesses were leveled by fires in three parts of Queens' Rockaway peninsula Monday night, with flames fed by hurricane-force winds from Sandy and firefighters helpless to get through the flooded streets. More than 200 elderly people were stranded in darkened nursing homes, and the return of electricity is likely weeks away.
"It's just horrible stuff," said Queens Borough President Helen M. Marshall. "Everybody was told to evacuate, but we're concerned that some people didn't leave and are still in there."
Allison Miller stood on what was left of the buckled Breezy Point boardwalk in tears. She said two family beach homes in the gated community on the westernmost tip of the Atlantic peninsula were destroyed by the fire as well. "My house is gone," she said.
John Frawley said he, too, made a mistake by staying behind. "I stayed up all night," he said. "The screams. The fire. It was horrifying."
Among those in the neighborhood of 2,700 homes who lost their homes was Rep. Bob Turner (R-Queens). In a statement, Turner said that he is "grateful that my family and I are safe after this destructive storm."
Five miles away on Beach 130th Street, flames had destroyed at least 15 more homes. Resident Jim O'Connor says that embers catching on the wind "looked like a flame thrower igniting the trees." Residents had waded through knee-deep water to escape their homes. Though a firefighter on the scene wouldn't rule out casualties, O'Connor believes that his neighbors all survived.
On the usually busy block of Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Beach 116 Street, firefighters estimated 20 buildings were destroyed by a fire that started around 11 p.m. Monday.
FDNY battalion chief Dennis Crichton, on the scene, said it won't be known whether there are bodies in the rubble until demolition equipment can clear the destroyed buildings.
Residents described watching firefighters, thwarted by high-tide swells reaching 6 feet in the streets, who stripped off equipment to swim toward buildings and attempt to rescue people. Though a cause for the initial blaze has not been announced, neighbor Jack Coffey said he heard an explosion before the fire started, which he thinks was a home propane tank exploding.
Two nursing homes -- Promenade Rehabilitation Health Care Center and Park Nursing Home -- were still not evacuated despite no electricity and first floors destroyed by flooding. Wheelchair-accessible vans lined the block. "There are 200 people stuck at these nursing homes," Crichton said. "We have these vans ready, but nowhere to take them." With AP