While it is difficult to find those silver linings in events as destructive as Superstorm Sandy, stories of bravery and heroism have surfaced, centering on people saving lives in the face of horrendous circumstances. The New York Daily News is reporting that a group of MTA employees helped rescue a group of residents and themselves in the storm’s worst moments last year.

The amazing acts of heroism involved the rescue of four transit workers trapped in a Coney Island facility, a man and woman who had abandoned their car on Neptune Avenue, and an elderly lady gripping on to a fire-alarm box who was submerged up to her neck in water. The New York Daily News described the rescue effort undertaken by a determined group of MTA workers:

All would escape, thanks to a rescue operation that started with signals division maintenance supervisor Michael Watt and superintendent Eric Williams answering a radio call for help from their four trapped colleagues…

Watt and Williams had just evacuated the signals facility and arrived at another transit building on Bay 50th St. when the emergency call came in.

“We have to get out of here,” superintendent Steve Miller said from his office. “You have to come back and get us.”

Watt and Williams jumped into their MTA Suburban. By the time they reached Neptune and Stillwell Aves., the water was up to the SUV’s door handles. “It had to be moving 15 mph,” Watt said. “It was fast and dangerous.”

The MTA employees trapped inside the facility— Miller, superintendent Sal Ambrosino, and signal maintainers Colombo Solimo and Kevin Puma — couldn’t push open the doors. The water outside was too high, the pressure too great. The building’s windows were locked from the outside, one of the men said.

Members of the group headed to the garage and opened a roll-up door. Afraid the electronic controls would short out if they waited much longer, they opened the door. The ensuing torrent into the garage was so powerful it picked up 5-foot-tall “gang boxes” easily containing more than 100 pounds of tools.

“I was walking down a narrow hallway towards the garage when a 4-foot wave comes shooting throughout the building,” Miller said. “The water’s up to my chest.”

The four fought their way to the Suburban, which was idling on a bit of higher ground on Neptune Ave. Miller waded to the building and shut the roll-down gate to protect the facility from any looters.

“There’s millions of dollars worth of equipment in there,” Watt explained.

Miller, a certified rescue scuba diver, helped the young man and woman reach the Suburban. She was hysterical, screaming “my mother, my mother,” the transit workers recalled.

“I looked down the street and I see this older lady holding onto the fire box,” Miller said. “She’s about 100 to 150 feet away, and the water’s up to her neck.”

Miller and the young man waded to the woman and, taking one arm each, pulled her back to the Suburban.

Wow. The incredible actions of the team has put them in contention for a Hometown Heroes in Transit award, a special award put together by the MTA, the Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the New York Daily News that honors transit workers who give extra effort in helping their communities. Best of luck to all the nominees on their amazing work.

Honestly, in a culture that makes spectacles of rewarding the accomplishments of actors and athletes, the Hometown Heroes in Transit award is an honor that actually means something. It puts into perspective what really counts in our society.

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