NEW YORK – Matt Long poked around the sooty ground in front of the charred remains of his home of 15 years.
Nothing inside survived the post-Hurricane Sandy fire that ravaged the beachfront hamlet of Breezy Point, N.Y. Long and his wife, Mary, were trying to salvage the only keepsakes they could: octagonal stones, each six inches across. One bore the handprint of 10-year-old Grace, the other was made by 8-year-old Emily.
The house on Gotham Walk and 110 others were destroyed by fire on that stretch of peninsula on the southwestern tip of New York Citys Queens borough, about 10 miles by air from John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Its awful, said Long, 46. Theres a lot of history in this place, and now its all gone.
Mary, 38, stood on what used to be the familys front stoop and wiped away tears. The neighborhood nicknamed the Irish Riviera was unrecognizable.
In addition to the structures claimed by fire, many more of Breezy Points 2,834 houses were waterlogged, missing walls or listing on sunken foundations.
Investigators were still trying to determine the cause, Cassano said.
The fire started in one corner of the neighborhood. The National Weather Service recorded gusts nearby of as much as 79 mph, so winds had more than enough strength to fan the flames and help them travel.
Fire was jumping from house to house, resident John Whelan said.
Those who ignored the evacuation order included Bill and Mary Norton, both 88, who were ferried over the flooded road yesterday morning in a small boat.
As his rescuers eased him into a plastic chair next to his wife outside of Breezy Points security office, Bill Norton groped for the words to describe the storm, and came up with only two: Jesus, horrible.
This used to be heaven, and now its turned into a nightmare, said Debra Spyliopulos, surveying the expanse of water that had been a beach.