Nearly 200 heroic firefighters battled an uncontrollable blaze that tore through 50 homes in the Rockaways, Queens, trapping people between flooded streets and towering flames.
The New York City firefighters waded through chest-deep water and paddled boats towards the inferno, scaling walls to help families out through windows.
Floods stopped fire engines getting anywhere near the cluster of burning apartments, after the inferno was sparked by downed power lines at 11:00 p.m. last night.
Firefighters were still fighting to contain the flames at 5am.
The six-alarm fire – a rating system indicating it is dangerously serious – was whipped into a frenzy by wild winds.
Firefighters used ladders to help get 70 people to the little high ground that was left on the peninsula.
The authorities said the blaze had engulfed 15 homes, but WABC put the figure much higher, at 50.
Firefighter Michael Parrella told the New York Times that the area was “probably the most flooded part of the city”.
The precarious Rockaway peninsula is a narrow strip of land that juts between the Atlantic Ocean and Jamaica Bay.
The entire area, which has 130,000 residents, was in the city’s mandatory evacuation zone, but dozens decided to stay and weather the storm.
After power went out about 6: 0 p.m. last night, downed power lines sparked a pair of dangerous fires in Rockaway Park and Breezy Point.
These spread rapidly, engulfing house after house in the densely-packed bedroom community.
“The Rockaways are devastated,” wrote Twitter user @KevinNeafsey.
“I can’t believe the place that I grew up in looks like this after today, it’s so incredibly sad.”
NYC ARECS (Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Service) said that police in the 100th Precinct station house in the area were trapped on the building’s second floor.
“What we have seen here is absolutely devastating,” said ABC News producer Jim DeBreuil.
At Rockaway Park, a crew of Fire Department of New York special operations firefighters found themselves stranded on the last dry ground in the neighborhood.
They took a small boat into the heart of the fire and carried 30 people to safety.
In Breezy Point, 140 firefighters rescued 40 people. They were only able to fight the inferno and stop its spread when the storm had receded