Friday, November 02, 2012

"It was just ‘yeah, of course we’ll help.’"

Marines help save 14 New Yorkers trapped by Hurricane Sandy

BROOKLYN, Ny - Winds, close to 80 mph, whipped the 14-foot floodwaters through the streets of New York Monday night as Hurricane Sandy bore down on the city. During the height of the storm, a detective from the New York Police Department approached the duty noncommissioned officer of 6th Communications Battalion, Force Headquarter Group in Brooklyn, N.Y., and requested assistance for a rescue operation.

A transformer in the Queens neighborhood of Rockaway Beach burst, triggering a house fire that soon spread to adjacent buildings. Because of the fire and the rising floodwaters, many residents were trapped.

First responders attempted to help stranded residents, but they were also trapped, bringing the number of those marooned to 14. The water was too deep for the emergency services units, so the NYPD called on the Reserve Marines for support.

“We were just checking (our training center) for damage because the storm was getting pretty bad,” said Sgt. Jorge Negron Milwaukee, WI, a ground radio repairman with 6th Communications Battalion. “The police showed up at the gate and, after getting approval, there was no hesitation. It was just ‘yeah, of course we’ll help.’”

Lt. Col. Richard Bordonaro, Inspector-Instructor for the 6th Communications Battalion, authorized the use of two 7-ton trucks, as well as the service of three Marines and one Navy corpsman, to conduct rescue assistance under the authority of the Defense Support of Civil Authorities directive.

Sgts. Allan Donaire Union, NJ, Michael Roy Tarrant, TX, and Jorje Negron along with Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Pulitano, a hospital corpsman, responded to the police department’s request at approximately 10:15 p.m.

“As soon as we got over the bridge, the water (between us and the neighborhood) was so high,” said Sgt. Michael Roy, also a ground radio repairman with the battalion. “SUVs were completely underwater and the flood waters were almost over the hood of our 7-ton (approximately seven feet).”

There were two fires raging when they arrived in the Breezy Point area -- one of the fires eventually destroyed 111 houses, and the other that burned at a power plant.

“When we turned the corner (and seeing the homes ablaze), it was the most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen,” said Negron. “The entire block was on fire; it looked like the road to Armageddon.”

The first responders’ vehicles were either water-logged or not large enough to enter the floodwaters, so over the next five hours, the Marines transported members of local police and fire departments to different areas of the neighborhood.

“The bravery and dedication I saw was so great,” said Negron. “Everyone was riding in our truck and then the police would hop into their raft and go to a family in need and the fire department would get in their (rafts) and go straight to a fire.”

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