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Sandy relief work lauded

Published:   |   Updated: May 3, 2013 at 10:05 AM

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Just days after Hurricane Sandy hit New York last fall, Assistant State Attorney Erin Corcoran Daly was driving from Florida to her hometown of Breezy Point, Queens, in a pickup with 27 five-gallon containers of gasoline in the truck bed.

It was an essential and elusive supply in the days and weeks that followed the devastating storm. Her husband, Bill, drove directly behind her to make sure she stayed safe with the highly flammable and precious cargo. The Dalys also brought donated generators, sump pumps, food and water and other tools.

Daly spent the next six weeks in Breezy Point, Queens, as an integral member of Operation Breezy Gut and Pump, which offered to gut homes and pump the water out for free.

Last week, Daly was recognized as one of 17 “Champions of Change” for Hurricane Sandy relief at the White House. The event, held on April 24, honored the “hidden heroes” who helped neighborhoods and communities rebuild after the storm, according to a White House news release.

Shortly after arriving in New York, she met an off-duty firefighter, and formed a crew to organize funds, volunteers — many from Occupy Wall Street and the Mormon church — and got to work.

Breezy Point, the last stop on the Queens peninsula that includes the Rockaways, faces both Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic. The neighborhood, sometimes called the “Irish Riviera” because of the significant population of Irish-Americans who live there, was a summer refuge until about the 1980s, Daly said. Her family began living in the community year-round as well, and Daly herself still owns a home there.

“I couldn’t imagine not being in the middle of my neighborhood,” said Daly, recounting when the storm hit Breezy Point.

A massive electrical fire complicated matters, ultimately burning hundreds of homes the night the storm blew through. Daly said some friends didn’t know whether they would burn in the flames or have to jump into the rising waters below.

Despite the destruction, no Breezy Point residents were killed during Hurricane Sandy. About 100 perished during the storm that ravaged parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Daly’s colleagues at the State Attorney’s Office pitched in to help on her cases, and State Attorney Brad King was “kind” and “generous” to not only give her the time off, but donate supplies to the effort.

“Everybody in this office helped, because everyone in Florida knows what it’s like to be a hurricane victim,” Daly said. Daly ultimately stayed in New York through December. Many nights were spent sleeping on a cot under a donated military tent, Daly said, with damaged furniture or hardwood flooring being used as firewood to keep warm.

And while the government gave some supplies, Daly said Operation Breezy was funded without any federal money. Social media proved invaluable, Daly said, with Occupy Wall Street volunteers setting up an Amazon Wish List of items they needed, and having the supplies delivered to the New York headquarters, then transported out to Queens.

Road Dawg, a Pasco handyman who traveled to Breezy Point to help out, remains in New York helping with the relief effort. Operation Breezy Gut and Pump’s Facebook page is active as the community continues to rebuild. Of about 2,800 houses, only about 400 have residents again, Daly said. Operation Breezy rehabbed about 600 houses, and about 300 were either burned in the fire or knocked down after the storm.

“I have an awesome team,” Daly said.

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