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Breezy Point residents to sue LIPA over Sandy fire

A Virgin Mary statue overlooks charred remains of

A Virgin Mary statue overlooks charred remains of homes, some still smoldering, in Breezy Point, Queens, after a fire broke out during Sandy. (Oct. 30, 2012) Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

A Manhattan lawyer for more than a dozen residents of Breezy Point said he has filed notices with LIPA in preparation for lawsuits accusing the utility of negligence in failing to de-energize the Rockaway neighborhood in advance of superstorm Sandy's tidal surge, causing the fire that wiped out scores of homes.

Andrew J. Carboy, a lawyer with Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo, said Tuesday he has filed 17 notices with the Long Island Power Authority in advance of lawsuits to be filed in State Supreme Court in Queens in the next year.

"They're trying to be made whole" for their losses, he said.

Carboy said although the FDNY report on the cause of the fire that damaged or destroyed more than 100 homes is not complete, the "preliminary indications were that this was electrical in origin."

He noted that LIPA, in advance of the storm, de-energized Fire Island and other regions, but power to Breezy Point was not shut off in time to prevent the fires.

LIPA spokesman Mark Gross confirmed the utility "reviewed the notices of claim," and has "no comment at this time."

LIPA officials have said the utility de-energized an area from Mastic Beach to the Rockaways. It's unclear when the power was turned off.

In a claim filed on behalf of David and Regina Hegarty, lawyers contend the neighborhood and the Hegarty home, "turned into an inferno" because power was not pre-emptively turned off as it was elsewhere along the South Shore. The Hegartys seek $1 million in damages.

"We took action to secure our homes, but they [LIPA] didn't take action to secure our homes," said Linda Strong, 59, a lifelong resident of "Breezy" who had lived on Ocean Avenue more than 30 years.

While she said she was fortunate to have insurance on her two-story home, "they [LIPA] still have to be held accountable for what they didn't do for us."

After evacuating to a son's home in Bensonhurst, as the storm approached, she said for "the first couple of days I was in a complete daze" after hearing of the fire.

Now renting an apartment in Bay Ridge, she said she had completely rebuilt her home a little more than a year before the storm hit.

"Everything in the house was new," she said, but what she misses most are those "older things that can't be replaced," such as a Christmas ornament made by a young nephew who has since died.

Seeking $1 million, Strong, a secretary at St. Anselm Catholic School in Bay Ridge, said she hopes to rebuild in Breezy Point.

The anticipated suit is one of at least five that have been filed by residents and electrical workers against LIPA and its contractor, National Grid, which operates the system under a $2.4 billion contract. Lawyers for residents have filed three negligence suits against the companies for the response that kept some residents in the dark for weeks.

A court in Nassau County will rule on whether to consolidate suits from ratepayers, said attorney Kenneth Mollins of Melville, who filed one of the first cases.

With Patricia Kitchen

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