Stevens Alumnus Shares What He Saw in Area Hard Hit by Sandy

4/25/2013

Editor’s Note: Dick McCormack ’53 chronicled his experience while volunteering with Operation Gut and Pump at Breezy Point, Queens, N.Y., this past December. 

“With many others, lending a hand where thousands more will be needed.’’

That's what volunteering at Breezy Point feels like. People are positive, even upbeat. The tasks of clean-up and fix-up are daunting.  A sign says, “We will be back and we will be better than ever!!!!”

There is an Irish lady with whom I've had correspondence about volunteering whose sister and niece were killed when a plane out of JFK lost its tail and crashed into their house in the Rockaways years ago. Just a month ago her house burned down in Breezy Point.

Looking at the other 120 burned-out homes and giving thanks that no one died is sobering.  It makes it easier to see the homes that were destroyed by Sandy's lashing. Off their foundation or just beaten by the power of the surge, they are of negative value now. But the destruction is profound. I think of Daniel Patrick Moynihan's words, “There is no point in being Irish if you don't know the world's going to someday break your heart.’’

I drove from Breezy down to Far Rockaway.  The houses with ocean views suffered the most. My guess is that at least 50 percent have been separated from their foundation.  The rest are filled with sand and water, and mold is the threatening problem.

I volunteer at “Operation Gut and Pump’’ in Breezy, and the whole effort is to avoid mold after the house has been full of water, which most homes have had in this area. Phil Pillet is the person who started the effort and knows what mold does to a house.

“Take everything that got wet out of the house!” Gut and Pump advises. “Let it dry, including the wood flooring. After that you can decide what to do with the flooring or some of the wood but throw the wet insulation away— be prepared to throw everything that got wet away!’’  Good advice!

Yesterday, an older woman came in and asked if someone could help her and her sister set up some portable electric/oil-filled heaters. She said she was told by someone else that we did not do that, and she got upset. I had met her outside the tent before she went in to ask, and when she left I asked my colleague what happened. Upon hearing, I caught up to her, and we went to her house. She said her anger was due to their combined helplessness in trying to figure out how these things went together. Figuring that I'm a power engineer, it stayed with me that these heaters were going to be put together the way they should be and THEY WILL WORK!

Happily, they did, and at the end this good lady offered to buy me a Heineken.

Today some people are coming from Stevens Institute of Technology to write a story about volunteers—what they do, how they organize and why they do it.  Should be an interesting piece. I'm in it because of being an alumnus. Why do others do it?  In my case, I saw a lady on TV whose house had just burned to the ground and she was crying hard.  I spent much time here in Breezy growing up—visiting friends who owned a place here, meeting my first girlfriend here, breaking up, being  a life guard at nearby Riis Park for half a summer—and that pretty much made the decision for me. 

Grace was going to be in Mexico, so the timing was good. Rita (my secretary) found a room in a truly bad hotel, and we were able to get a non-stop not too expensive flight. I called Dominick Romano and Danny Knowles and then my childhood friend from Brooklyn John McAlinden to discuss the details, and it all worked out.

Anyhow, John was not at his house at 8:30, as we agreed last evening when I stopped by.  What to do? I stayed for about 20 minutes and then went on down to Breezy hoping he is OK. Found out later that he had forgotten the meeting and had gone to Mass. I called Danny, who told me that John suffers from "forgetfulness."

Now for names: Phil Pillet, fireman FDNY; Erin Daly, a leader in the organization, and we could be related via Daly via the name, which is my mother's mother's name; Bob Gibbons, who runs the tool ops in the organization; Luke Wigle; Chris; Amanda; Nancy; Tom Vrabel; and Chas Robles, the person who took the people from Stevens to his work site.

There are more people--these are the ones who run the organization. The rest are volunteers who crew the work, and they are truly indispensable. They come early in the morn and often don't really finish until late at night. Herculean.

So now, my time here is near over. I did not do everything I wanted but I could come back down the road. It was that good an experience.

So, what was it like?

I'm glad I came! That sums it up and says it best of all.

I really did not want my photo to be used; the other pics were fine that Stevens took.  It is the volunteers’ thing, and they are good at it. I did little but come in to a well-organized group and say I’d like to help if I can. 

I would do it again and know better what to look for and what to get involved in. I fly home tomorrow on 12/12/12 which, I’m told, is the last time this century that will happen. A day to remember… 

Read more about Stevens and Sandy at /news/sandy.