The retired FDNY firefighter Patrick Kilgallen remembers the night well. In late October 2012, the approach of Hurricane Sandy up the US Eastern Seaboard coincided with a spring tide, propelling a surge of storm water that crashed into New York City and its surrounds, causing more than $70bn in damages, mostly from flooding.
When water from the ocean and bayside came coursing up the street, Kilgallen was with his family at home, one block in from the wooden boardwalk, at Rockaway Beach -- a barrier island off Queens that faces the Atlantic Ocean and has become known as the ‘Irish Riviera’ for its large population of Irish-American families, including many New York City firefighters and police officers.
‘We tried to barricade the windows with sandbags but it kept coming up,’ he says. ‘The basement door blew out with the pressure of the water. So, I shut the power off, and went up the first, or, ground floor. Then, as the water came up, we went to the second.’
The water turned out to be just the beginning of the carnage that ensued after neighbouring homes caught fire. A whole section of Breezy Point, including 200 homes, was flooded and then burned down.