If Sandy’s path had veered, it could have been Montauk instead of Breezy Point in Queens. Dennis O’Reilly, who now lives in Montauk, was born and raised in Breezy Point, and that’s what he was thinking last week.
“Dennis was literally beside himself when he went up and visited Breezy Point after the storm,” said East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson on Monday. “There he saw the devastation and destruction of 120 homes,” including a photo album belonging to his own family floating in water, Mr. Wilkinson said.
Mr. O’Reilly, along with a troop of Montauk and East Hampton residents, has been organizing caravans of relief supplies to Breezy Point, a community of firefighters and police officers not unlike the hamlet 120 miles away at the other end of Long Island. “If you look at the position of Breezy Point, it’s a peninsula; it’s very similar to Montauk,” Mr. O’Reilly said. “It’s a parallel community. Had that storm come 50 miles farther north before Sandy turned, odds are we would have lost Napeague, and Montauk could very well have been an island.”
“There’s nothing, nothing up there,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “No food, no capacity for water or power. I’ve never seen such devastation since 9/11.”
Before Sandy struck, Mr. O’Reilly and others had been considering how best to help people in the local community when it did. “His heart is pure and he has the strength of 10,” Mr. Wilkinson said of Mr. O’Reilly, a volunteer fireman who the supervisor said was also behind a 9/11 memorial in Montauk.
“Those seeds are planted in our head,” Mr. Wilkinson said of a group that also included East Hampton Town Police Chief Ed Ecker Jr., Montauk Fire Chief Richard Schoen and Tom Milne. “Then the storm hits and, thank God, we dodged a major bullet.”
Hoping to “pay it forward” to Breezy Point, they picked up 4,000 pounds of ice from Gosman’s and went around Saturday night and early Sunday morning gathering donations of “anything from juice to diapers to cheese to clothing to gasoline,” filling four trucks with what Mr. O’Reilly called “the necessities to enable those people to keep pressing forward.” The caravan left early Sunday morning for Breezy Point, where “Dennis assessed on the ground,” the supervisor said, so as to “fine-tune the need list” for the next delivery, which is scheduled for Wednesday, with another, relatively massive one, to follow on Friday.
Local restaurants and markets made up hot plates, providing “the first warm food many of these people have seen in six days,” Mr. O’Reilly said. Montauk marinas donated gasoline, despite local shortages, to fuel generators to provide electricity to Breezy Point residents. “Almost everything that was down there was underwater,” Mr. O’Reilly said, adding that “heating has been a critical issue” as well.
“When we rolled in there with that fuel,” he said, not a drop was wasted, whether it was gasoline for a generator to pump water out of a house or diesel to power road-clearing machines. “It was like giving out candy on Halloween,” Mr. O’Reilly said. “I like to think that they would be there for us.”
Donations of clothing are no longer needed, but appliances like washing machines, dryers and refrigerators are, as well as heaters (generator-powered LP “torpedo” heaters are best), extension cords, tarps, roofing nails, mechanical tools and other hardware are in particular demand.
“Most of these people haven’t been able to do any laundry,” Mr. O’Reilly said. “They’re off the grid.”
“As the severity of this becomes realized, they’re going to force evacuation; the city will deem it uninhabitable,” he predicted. “If you look at the lineage of the Bennett family, or Lester, your sister lives a half mile away from you, you’re all in a small area.” As in Breezy Point, he said, “you don’t have the option of refuge, to ‘go to my sister’s house.’ Your sister’s house has as much damage as your own.”
He predicted that the time frame “for any kind of rebuilding would not be measured in days or weeks,” but perhaps in years.
Donations are being accepted at all East Hampton firehouses, and Mr. Wilkinson said on Monday he intended to start accepting them at Town Hall by Wednesday. Cleaning supplies, baby and pet supplies, flashlights and batteries, duct tape, first aid kits, insulin, syringes and lancets and lanterns are also among the needed items. “Hopefully by Friday we’ll have enough to make a splash in Breezy Point,” said Mr. Wilkinson, who was hoping for “a ton more than a significant caravan on Friday.”