By KIRSTIN COLE
3:10 PM CDT, November 1, 2012
BREEZY POINT, Queens (PIX11)
For the first time Breezy Pointers were getting a look at their obliterated neighborhood. Hundreds returned on Wednesday to their seaside community after it was ravaged by three deadly forces in one night: Sandy's hurricane force winds, rising flood waters and a raging inferno.
Katie, a 66 year resident takes me on a tour of her home, "This was my deck," she says to me. I ask if it had water views and she smiles wistfully. "Of course!"
We are actually standing on the edge of a pile of charred debris, still smoldering in spots. She is one of the 111 residents burned out of her beloved home. She's come back just to See It; fire officials tell her not to even begin poking around for remains because she could drop into a sink hole or other hazard.
She'll have a few days to do that later, before the bulldozers come in and raze the blocks and blocks of bungalows that slowly became year-round residences filled with her friends.
"It was like an ocean here and my daughter said, 'The flames are coming this way and we have to get out!'" is how Mary Lepara described the moment she decided to flee. She returned today with her two most prized possessions--her daughters who she evacuated with on Monday night--to search for any other possessions: their find? A half fire consumed gold ring, marred by heat so she can't tell if it was her's or one that her husband used to wear.
"I'm alive that's all that matters. We have no house. But we got out," she states matter of facility as a glimmer of blue sky shines overhead and acrid smoke wisps still drift through the air.
Fire and rescue units were on scene, faced with the grim task of counting the destroyed homes. A hastily folded map yields the count: 111 destroyed, 23 fire damaged.
All are hoping the loss of life count will hold--at none.
We catch up with Assistant Chief Joseph Pfeifer of the FDNY as he surveys the fire damage with a grim look, "We're searching all we can and then it's really getting back to the community to find out if there is anybody missing"
Governor Cuomo toured the devastation as well, not hiding his shock that there were neither resident nor firefighter casualties, while focusing on the future.
"We will re-build, and re-build better," he declared.
While infrastructure changes may be slow to come to this neighborhood to prevent this from ever happening again, one thing remains constant. Breezy Pointers' determination and resiliency.
We get back to Katie, looking over the charred remnants of her home. "I hope there's a house here next year. And I'll be in it."
In all, 40 % of homes in this tight knit community are obliterated, 80% are affected. But Medical Examiner's office also has established a field morgue in the Rockaways, pointing to the ominous sign there may be far worse eventualities to face.