Editor’s Note: On Oct. 29, Hurricane Sandy ripped through the city of New York. Among the chaos of floodwaters and winds close to 80 mph, a transformer in the Queens neighborhood of Rockaway Beach burst and started a house fire that quickly spread to nearby homes. With the floodwaters so high, emergency personnel were unable to rescue residents and contain the blazes. So, New York Police Department Detective Frank Pinto called on the Marines.
Sgt. Allan D. Donaire, Sgt. Jorge S. Negron, Sgt. Michael J. Roy II and Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Pulitano, 6th Communication Battalion, loaded up on two 7-ton trucks to assist emergency personnel and helped rescud 14 New Yorkers who were trapped in the engulfed homes. One of the Marines, Sgt. Negron, spoke with us about that night.
What were you doing the night of Oct. 29?
I was at the Battalion hanging out with the Marines on duty. The storm was starting to get pretty bad, so we put on our Gortexes and started checking for damage to the building. A policeman showed up at the gate, requesting help. There were first responders trapped and the water level was very high. They needed our 7-ton trucks.
What were your initial thoughts when your assistance was requested?
As soon as we heard it, we wanted to go there. We don’t get the opportunity to do a lot of things like that, so we were eager to help.
Once you loaded up the 7-tons, what were the conditions like driving there?
It really didn’t hit us how bad the storm was until we got out there. I was the A-driver and Sgt. Donaire was the driver. The water level was so high that it was up to the hood of the 7-ton. If you’ve ever seen a 7-ton — that’s pretty high. We saw SUVs completely submerged under the water and we had to dodge vehicles the whole way. We tried to stay between the light poles on either side since we couldn’t see the road.
Were you concerned as you drove through that deep of water?
I thought we were going to get washed away or trapped. The water was splashing onto the windshield, so we couldn’t see. The police department gave us night vision goggles so we were able to see even in the darkness. If any of us had fallen out of the vehicle, we would have been swept away.
What was the scene like when you reached the fire?
The fire was intense. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve seen bad fires in Afghanistan, but this one was different. As we pulled into the block, the end of the block was like the gateway to hell. There was just fire everywhere. We could see the skeletons of the trees that were on fire. It was pretty disturbing.
Were you able to bring trapped residents and first responders to safety?
We were able to rescue about 13 or 14 people. I was glad we were able to get them out. The policemen and the firemen should get the real praise. They went into the fire and pulled the people out.
What condition were they in when they were rescued?
Most of them were in shock. It was very cold out and the policemen had to bring them through the water on a raft to our truck. They were getting splashed. A lot were elderly people. There was a husband and wife with three young daughters. Thankfully, someone brought blankets we were able to pass around to keep everyone warm.
How did it feel for you to be able to assist these New Yorkers?
I have a young daughter myself, so it really hit home with me to see those young girls. I was shocked that they were even still there during the storm. It was really gratifying for us to be able to help. A lot of Marines want to do stuff like that, but we don’t get the opportunity very often.
Do you have plans to continue to assist with rescue efforts?
A group of us are going to Breezy Point to help out over there in a little bit. We are ready to help wherever we are needed.