University of Vermont

Cadets Help Cleanup after Hurricane Sandy

A fire devastated neighborhood in Breezy Point, NY

On October 28th through the 29th Hurricane Sandy battered the east coast.  According to the National Hurricane Center Sandy was the second most costly storm in U.S. history, with 75 billion dollars in damage.  The Storm also claimed 72 lives in the United States.  New York and New Jersey were particularly hard hit by Hurricane Sandy.

Cadet Justin Adams led a volunteer tip to New York following Hurricane Sandy.  During Thanksgiving break we helped with storm cleanup.  When we arrived in New York we went to a volunteer center at St. Matthews Church in Brooklyn NY.  At St. Matthews we were given cleaning supplies, protective equipment, and a ride to the Volunteer Fire House in Breezy Point NY. 

The ride too Breezy Point took almost an hour due to traffic, and some of the damage done by the storm caused detours.  After passing through a security checkpoint (to make sure we weren’t looting) we finally entered Breezy Point.  The damage was unbelievable.  Cars carried were away by the storm surge and strewn all over the road.  Boats were ripped from their docks and floated into the middle of streets, front yards, and in some cases through someone’s house during the storm.   After the water receded these boats and cars were left scattered all over the neighborhood.   Some homes were even pulled right off of their foundations. 

 The hardest hit area was a tightly packed neighborhood behind the firehouse on Beach 210 St.  During the storm a transformer had shorted out causing a fire.  This fire spread through the dense neighborhood burning down 111 homes.  This blaze was very difficult to fight according to Breezy point firefighters because in the flooding their apparatus malfunctioned.  In addition there was a very real danger of being swept away by the storm surge in some areas.  These firemen were unable to receive support from the FDNY for several hours because of the flooding.   This made stopping the fire nearly impossible.  Eventually the fire was extinguished

Cadets Adams and I spent our time in Breezy Point working for “Operation Gut and Pump”.  This was a group of Breezy Point residents and volunteer firefighters who helped gut homes and pump out the flood water.  This was an important task following the Storm because if wet materials sat for too long mold would begin to grow.  If the mold growth could not be stopped quickly the home could quickly become unsalvageable.  We spent many hours in dark and flooded basements removing water, sand, and garbage.  When we removed insulation from one home I distinctly remember mistaking several dead rats for a piece of insulation.  I realized the mess I was in when I felt the bones crunch in my hand.  Gutting homes was an extremely messy process which sometimes required a strong stomach.    

The fire department provided us with tools and directed our activities.  They were receiving donations in the form of supplies, money, and food from all over the country.  Looking back this group of volunteers was extremely organized and very impressive to work with.  During our trip we met people from all over the country; power line workers from Kentucky, firefighters from New York City, Ohio, and Massachusetts.  We came across Wall Street Bankers, County Prosecutors, and even a construction worker from Vermont.                    

 The residents of Breezy Point were very amused to see two Vermonters in their midst, and gladly welcomed us into what was left of their homes.  This trip helped me see the world outside of Vermont.  It made me thankful that my family and community have not suffered a natural disaster as severe as Super storm Sandy.  Many of the people who lost their homes were retired and it will be very difficult for them to get enough insurance money to rebuild.  I am glad we took the time to help with this relief effort, and I hope the situation in areas affected by Sandy Continues to improve.  This was a valuable experience, and I hope that our cadets will continue to take on community service projects.