Residents Survive Fire and Ice in Breezy Point, Queens

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After being leveled by Hurricane Sandy and then blanketed in snow, a neighborhood tries to salvage what's left.

When Hurricane Sandy hit Breezy Point, Queens, many of the area's first responders were on duty in other parts of the city. They returned to what Mayor Bloomberg called the biggest fire in New York City's history. One hundred eleven homes burned to the ground, and most of the remaining buildings were flooded. On Wednesday night, the northeaster blanketed the ruins with snow.

Today, members of the National Guard, Navy, and Marines are on the scene. The Naval Mobile Construction Battalion from Port Hueneme, California, is clearing debris and assisting residents as they try to salvage what they can. Earlier this morning, three firemen were at the home of John Boyle as he hauled out deer heads from his taxidermy collection.

This community is no stranger to tragedy, having lost many residents and first responders in the World Trade Center attacks of 9/11. In the recent fire, many of the homes that burned to the ground had been in Irish American families for four or five generations. American flags now dot the demolished landscape, signaling the owners' patriotism.

During a walk through the ruins two days before the northeaster, I met Dorothy Raffo, who had an appointment with an insurance agent to survey her home. She said the devastated landscape around her reminded her of Hiroshima. In fact, she was holding in her hand an ancient copy of John Hersey's 1946 book Hiroshima. It had survived the blaze, inscribed with her maiden name.

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Julie Dermansky is a multimedia reporter and artist based in New Orleans. She is an affiliate scholar at Rutgers University's Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights. Visit her website at www.jsdart.com.

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