New York City fire crews fought neck-deep water and battering winds as they battled a raging inferno that reduced 111 homes to ash in a neighborhood that is home to hundreds of their fellow firefighters.
The massive, uncontrollable blaze in Breezy Point, Queens, was sparked by a downed power line about 11pm on Monday and was not brought under control until daybreak on Tuesday.
Firefighters waded into rushing floodwaters and scaled walls to perform dramatic rescues of dozens of trapped residents of the neighborhood at the tip of the Rockaway peninsula.
Firefighters said 25 people were stuck in a building that was on fire and had to be rescued by boat because the water was chest deep.
The blazed claimed the home of Rep Bob Turner, a Republican who won the seat of disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner last year.
Conservative Party chairman Michael Long also lost his house.
But for many of the 190 firefighters who heroically waged combat against the fire and the bluster of Superstorm Sandy, the battle was personal.
The tight-knit Irish Catholic community of 5,000 is home to hundreds of firefighters.
During the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 70 current or former residents of the neighborhood were killed.
Floodwaters made the fire inaccessible for fire crews for many hours.
Firefighter Michael Parrella told the New York Times that the area was ‘probably the most flooded part of the city.’
Tropical storm-force winds whipped the small blaze into a frenzy. It engulfed house after house. Initial reports late Monday said 25 homes were on fire. Then the toll rose to 50. Then 80.
The final estimate is 111 houses leveled. Most of them reduced to smoldering ash.
‘It looked like a forest fire out in the Midwest,’ Mayor Bloomberg told the New York Daily News.
‘The winds were just devastating blowing from one building to the next one. We are hoping and praying that there was no loss of life in those fires.’
One firefighter was injured and two residents were hospitalized, but no deaths have been reported.
The six-alarm fire – a rating system indicating it is dangerously serious – was whipped into a frenzy by wild winds.
‘The Rockaways are devastated,’ wrote Twitter user @KevinNeafsey. ‘I can’t believe the place that I grew up in looks like this after today, it’s so incredibly sad.’
Tracie Strahan tweeted: ‘We’re on a submerged, powerless street in the Rockaways. I can’t imagine how hard it is for @FDNY New York Fire Department to get to fires in the area this AM.’
NYC Arecs (Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Service) said that police in the 100th Precinct station house in the area were trapped on the building’s second floor.
‘What we have seen here is absolutely devastating,’ said ABC News producer Jim DeBreuil.
At Rockaway Park, a crew of Fire Department of New York special operations firefighters found themselves stranded on the last dry ground in the neighborhood.
They took a small boat into the heart of the fire and carried 30 people to safety.