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.
Intersection of McDonald Avenue and Avenue T (Source: Google Maps)
NYPD officers Eddie Wong and Annette Lancaster risked their lives to save two people caught in a burning car on July 4. According to a NY1 report, Wong and Lancaster were nearby when a car crashed into the elevated train platform’s stanchion, bursting into flames at the intersection of McDonald Avenue and Avenue T.
The officers first smashed the windows of the burning car to provide ventilation as the smoke and flames grew in intensity. With the help of onlookers, the officers managed to pry open the driver’s side door, which was damaged in the accident. They pulled out the male 27-year-old driver but had trouble helping the 55-year-old female passenger in the front seat. Wong fought the flames with a fire extinguisher provided by a local resident while the woman was taken out through the broken window.
The New York Post reported that both Wong and Lancaster were injured in the ordeal, suffering from smoke inhalation and other minor injuries. The officers were treated for their injuries at Maimonides Hospital while the occupants of the car were treated for minor injuries at Lutheran Hospital.
The only entrance to Lake Avenue became impassable once water started tumbling down from Emmons Avenue, and debris littered the alleyway.
There is no shortage of heroes that came out of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, but it seems everyone on Lake Avenue agrees that two quick thinking residents of their bungalow colony and a nearby landlord are their first first responders.
The Nostrand Avenue condo building where Lake Avenue residents found refuge from the flood.
One of several Lake Avenue buildings that are now deemed uninhabitable by the Department of Buildings.
When flood waters breached the bulkhead of Sheepshead Bay and engulfed Emmons Avenue, it advanced forward, rushing into the bungalow colony alleys located below street level. With no drainage systems, approximately 60 residents of Lake Avenue – just off Nostrand Avenue and Emmons Avenue – realized their one-story bungalows were about to be submerged.
“All of a sudden the water started pouring into the house. My 94-year-old father and I live in the house together,” said Lake Avenue resident Wendy Mitchell.
That’s when neighbors Missy Haggerty and Peter McCandless rushed out of their homes and began banging on doors, telling people to get out. Some were sleeping or in the middle of eating dinner, and looked up the block to see a waterfall rushing down the steps into the colony’s dead end alley.
“I got out and I’m trying to hold the door open [for my 94-year-old father] and Peter got him out finally,” Mitchell said. “When we first left, the water was up to the knees. By the time we got about five houses down it was under my arms. I’m five-foot-five and it was under my arms.”
Mitchell said she never would have been able to get out of there if it weren’t for Missy and Peter – and the landlord of a nearby building that abuts the alley.
Well known are the stories of heroism on the part of firefighters, police officers and other first responders on September 11, 2001. But there’s yet another story of heroism that has largely gone under the radar, involving ordinary civilians who put their life and property in harm’s way to save others.
Boatlift chronicles the story of the largest sea evacuation in history, when a fleet of civilian and Coast Guard vessels voluntarily navigated to the seawall of lower Manhattan, and helped evacuate nearly 500,000 people in less than nine hours.
Sheepshead Bay’s own Vincent Ardolino, captain of the Amberjack V, was one of those who played a pivotal role on that September morning 11 years ago. Seeing the attack on the news, he boarded his vessel and set out to ferry evacuees between the boroughs – long before the Coast Guard put out a call to all available ships for help in the evacuation. Ardolino is heavily featured in the film, as are captains from around Brooklyn and New York City, as well as New Jersey.
Boatlift was executive produced by Stephen Flynn and Sean Burke, and co-directed by Rick Velleu. It premiered on September 8 at the “9/11 Tenth Anniversary Summit: Remembrance/Renewal/Resilience” in Washington. The summit kicked off a national movement to foster community and national resilience in the face of future crises. See www.road2resilience.org to learn more.