Broker Glenn Serafin’s account of Breezy Point, NY flood, fire


Glenn SerafinRBR-TVBR exclusive: The Tampa-based media broker tells RBR-TVBR he was in the middle of that massive fire in NY during Sandy that destroyed over 100 homes. His was a summer home that he was securing before the storm. He was very lucky but is still shaken up. With communications so limited because of the destruction there, he asked us to tell readers he’s sorry he didn’t reach out to his friends and associates and decided this was the best way to tell his story. He could barely get texts out to his immediate family for days, in fact, just to say he was alive.

Serafin was also quoted extensively in an NBC News story, which we will run excerpts from. But for now, Glenn shared with us an email to his immediate family:

I got back to Tampa late Thursday night.

I stayed because through Monday the winds and rain were not all that bad, the power was on and the basement was dry.

What I did not anticipate was the storm surge at the 8PM high tide, which came very fast into the community to a height of 7-8 feet. I did not anticipate this, as I mistakenly thought our half mile of beach would protect us at least somewhat.

Water completely filled the basement and the house to knee height in the kitchen and TV room.

I shut off the power to the house and shortly thereafter noticed the first flames across the sand alley on Ocean Avenue two houses in from the beach Promenade. For there, fanned by a SE wind, the fire spread quickly west and north, jumping from house to house including all of the homes across the sand alley from us, just 20 feet away. So the fire was pushed away from us by the wind, which is the only reason we did not lose the house to fire. From left to right I watched each house catch fire, burn and collapse. When they fell I had a view of the devastation beyond.

The heat was intense, so I found a little bit of water pressure in the Mahon’s hose and filled a pitcher with water to soak the plastic storm windows on the back porch, which were starting to melt. I was very afraid they would burst into flames. I did that for 2-3 hours until the all the houses across the same alley had collapsed, none had fallen into our home, the heat died down and the plastic window coverings were cooled down. I kept an eye on all of the homes still standing along the fire line to be sure that none were catching fire, which would have been a threat to us. Some of their siding had melted, but none caught fire.

Finally, at 1:30 AM or so, I decided our threat from fire had passed. I went upstairs to the back deck and watched the Wedge burn, 111 homes in all, as it turns out. I was a terrible sight I never will forget.

Hindsight is 20-20. I should have left earlier, but with the power still on, just gale force winds, a dry basement and not much rain, I’d never have shut off the power to the house before leaving. Because I did kill the power, and my one man bucket brigade, maybe it saved the house from fire. Maybe not. I’ll never know for sure.

As the water receded somewhat, for the next two days I got all of the water logged stuff and perishables out of the house, and mopped the floors to limit water damage. But the water still completely filled the basement level to the ceiling when I left midday Wednesday with Uncle Jimmy and Sean.

Looking back, I am convinced that the wind and rain did not devastate Breezy Point. It was the storm surge that did, both with water and causing the fire.

I made some mistakes, but I did some good too. I won’t second guess myself. I am just happy to be safe and back home.

I thought of you often.

With Love/Dad

Serafin says the firefighters tried to contain the fire on the north part of the devastated area. “They got their hoses up about 10:30, but they couldn’t get near to where the heart of the fire was because of 7 feet of water. They were only able to stop it from crossing over one fairly large street/walk. That’s where they set up the fire line. The guys did a terrific job—both the volunteers and the FDNY, they were all over it late into the night and into the next morning. They were going through all of the rubble, too, trying to stop any re-ignition.”

The NBC News story noted that as Hurricane Sandy turned the streets of Breezy Point into raging rivers on Monday evening, one company of volunteer firefighters ditched their rescue boats and sought refuge in the community center. Inside they found another bunch of volunteer firefighters, also stranded by rising water, who asked, “Are you here to rescue us?”

That was shortly before 70-mph winds blew embers the size of baseballs through the heart of this close-knit community on the Rockaway Peninsula in New York City’s Queens borough.

Interviews with residents and firefighters on Wednesday provided a more complete account of how the disaster unfolded in this beachside town when Sandy blasted ashore.

In a community where firefighters are demigods, where a memorial at the end of the point honors more than 30 residents who lost their lives at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, three companies of volunteer firefighters were overwhelmed by flooding and an inferno that destroyed more than 100 houses. Yet they fought the elements all night, saving many people and protecting houses on the perimeter of the burn zone, including the home of a 9/11 widow.

The Rockaway Point Fire Department, one of three volunteer fire houses in Breezy Point, was unable to get its flooded trucks running during the storm. The men took to boats to pull people from the water.

It was about 8:30, just before high tide, when they first noticed a glow in the sky.

Glenn Serafin had been one of the first to see the flames, near his home on Atlantic Avenue, on the ocean side of town in the knotted area of tightly grouped houses known as the Wedge, where the streets are as wide as sidewalks, the lots only 20 by 43 feet, the houses seven to 10 paces wide. He had been tending his pump, ignoring repeated phone calls from the community safety office insisting that everyone evacuate. He was expecting a few feet of water in his basement, as had happened in previous hurricanes, but he allows that “my thinking was flawed.” He took a nap about 6:30 p.m., but was awakened by water in his basement, which had risen neck high. Then the electrical outlets started popping from the salt water, and he heard the rush of water moving up the street.

Then, after 8 o’clock, out his back window, he spotted the fire, in one of the bungalows behind the larger beachfront house of Rep. Bob Turner (who got his job after Anthony Weiner lost his for sending nude photos and risque text messages). The fire leaped to the congressman’s house, then to the house next door, where an older lady has kept a parrot for 50 years, the one that entertains children by repeating some choice words it learned from her dockworker husband. Then it jumped again and again, driven by the powerful southeast wind. The phones were out. The cell phones were out. Serafin used a garden hose and a margarita pitcher to throw water on his plastic storm shutters.

Everyone knows everyone in the Wedge, often hanging out together at the Sugar Bowl beachfront bar. When a friend once asked Serafin, ‘Do you know Alice” he replied, “Oh, yes. She’s my wife’s brother’s wife’s brother’s wife.”

The people here own the houses, but not the land. They live in a gated co-op, some here full time, but most, like Serafin, staying mainly in the summer.

See the full NBC News story here