BROOKLYN, N.Y. --
Winds, close to 80 mph, whipped the 14-foot floodwaters through the streets of New York Monday night as Hurricane Sandy bore down on the city. During the height of the storm, a detective from the New York Police Department approached the duty noncommissioned officer of 6th Communications Battalion, Force Headquarters Group in Brooklyn, N.Y., and requested assistance for a rescue operation.
A transformer in the Queens neighborhood of Rockaway Beach burst, triggering a house fire that soon spread to adjacent buildings. Because of the fire and the rising floodwaters, many residents were trapped.
First responders attempted to help stranded residents, but they were also trapped, bringing the number of those marooned to 14. The water was too deep for the emergency services units, so the NYPD called on the Reserve Marines for support.
“We were just checking (our training center) for damage because the storm was getting pretty bad,” said Sgt. Jorge Negron, a ground radio repairman with 6th Communications Battalion. “The police showed up at the gate and, after getting approval, there was no hesitation. It was just ‘yeah, of course we’ll help.’”
Lt. Col. Richard Bordonaro, Inspector-Instructor for the 6th Communications Battalion, authorized the use of two 7-ton trucks, as well as the service of three Marines and one Navy corpsman, to conduct rescue assistance under the authority of the Defense Support of Civil Authorities directive.
Sgts. Allan Donaire, Michael Roy and Jorje Negron along with Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Pulitano, a hospital corpsman, responded to the police department’s request at approximately 10:15 p.m.
“As soon as we got over the bridge, the water (between us and the neighborhood) was so high,” said Sgt. Michael Roy, also a ground radio repairman with the battalion. “SUVs were completely underwater and the flood waters were almost over the hood of our 7-ton (approximately seven feet).”
There were two fires raging when they arrived in the Breezy Point area -- one of the fires eventually destroyed 111 houses, and the other that burned at a power plant.
“When we turned the corner (and seeing the homes ablaze), it was the most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen,” said Negron. “The entire block was on fire; it looked like the road to Armageddon.”
The first responders’ vehicles were either water-logged or not large enough to enter the floodwaters, so over the next five hours, the Marines transported members of local police and fire departments to different areas of the neighborhood.
“The bravery and dedication I saw was so great,” said Negron. “Everyone was riding in our truck and then the police would hop into their raft and go to a family in need and the fire department would get in their (rafts) and go straight to a fire.”
Bordonaro reinforced how harrowing the situation was for everyone. The storm was not letting up.
“We lost communication with the Marines several times,” said Bordonaro. “The winds were high and cell phone reception was sketchy at best. All across New York you could see mass destruction.”
The Marines were thankful everyone made it safely out of the situation alive because of good teamwork.
“It was so great to see everyone come together, the police, firemen and the Marines,” said Roy. “It didn’t matter who you worked for at that point, we were just all trying to get those people out of there”
Negron felt thankful that he had a chance to serve the community. It is definitely gratifying to see so many people safely make it out of such a bad situation, he said.
“I talked to the Marines before they went out, and they were ready,” said Bordonaro. “The conditions were dangerous; some first responders had already been trapped. But the Marines went out and performed. They knew they were saving peoples’ lives.”
The three Marines and corpsman are assigned to the 6th Communication Battalion, a Reserve unit headquartered in Brooklyn, N.Y. The unit specializes in communications and is trained to provide radio, cyber, wire/switching, and satellite services to support Marine Expeditionary Forces. 6th Communication Battalion also serves the community by organizing and operating the Toys for Tots program in the New York City and Long Island area, participating in parades and memorial services, and supporting many other community activities.