Long Island native responds to Hurricane Sandy with aviation unit; dad deals with aftermath
November 21, 2012
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Anthony Pizzuto knew Hurricane Sandy was about to hit. He had been ordered to evacuate his Long Island home, but he decided to stay. When he looked outside around 7 p.m., he could see the water beginning to run down the streets. An hour and a half later, his home was surrounded by water, and it was rising quickly. He would not be able to keep it from coming inside.
"The water came up from the foundation," Pizzuto said.
He watched as his carpet rose and floated on the surface of the encroaching salt water.
"As the water level rose, I marked the walls. If the water rose too far, I knew I would have to swim out," he said.
As the water marks climbed, Pizzuto placed his dog on a dresser and got up on a kitchen counter; both were about four feet high.
"Within 15 minutes, my house was flooded with about three feet of water," he said. "The water was saltwater, but it had an oil smell, too."
Eventually the water stopped rising, and after a few hours, it began to recede.
"I opened the front door, and it looked like a lake (outside). My dog ran out, took a few steps, started dog paddling, and then came back in."
Pizzuto walked outside and noticed military personnel heading toward the coast.
"They rescued a few people that night," said Pizzuto, who wouldn't sleep that night, as he was afraid he would drown. He swept the remaining water out of his house.
After the storm, Pizzuto received a call from his son at Fort Drum, who was concerned about his dad and the potential devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
"It was quite hectic, because he was still trying to handle the situation," said Sgt. 1st Class Michael A. Pizzuto, an air defense air space management cell noncommissioned officer with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade.
Pizzuto, who departed Fort Drum on Oct. 31with elements of 3-10 General Support Aviation Battalion, Task Force Phoenix, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, to assist with hurricane recovery efforts, was relieved to know his dad was OK and that he had taken what he could salvage to his mother's home in Hicksville, an area 20 minutes north of the coast that, for the most part, was unaffected by the storm.
TF Phoenix was first sent to Federal Emergency Management Agency - Region I headquarters north of Boston from where the unit conducted an aerial assessment mission along the Rhode Island coast. The unit was soon ordered to move to FEMA - Region II in New Jersey to assist with the recovery efforts there.
Pizzuto said he was honored to assist with the recovery efforts in any capacity, and he felt the 10th CAB helicopters would be a great asset in the recovery process.
The senior Pizzuto said he was very proud that his son would be part of the personnel arriving to the New York / New Jersey area to provide assistance to those in terrible need.
"The next morning when it was light, I took things out of the house to the street to be picked up," Pizzuto said. "I've been doing that for a week."
His neighbors were all doing the same. Sanitation workers would drive up and down the street over the next few days picking up all that had been discarded.
Pizzuto said there was still no electricity in his neighborhood a week after the storm and many were afraid of the new storm coming.
Around the time Pizzuto was boarding a helicopter to head to the affected areas, his father was going back to work.
The elder Pizzuto, a third-generation chef, manages a restaurant on Long Island in an area where there was very little damage and electricity had been returned just two days after the storm hit.
"There was not much I could do at home," he said. "I'm working limited hours; a few hours a day at first. Business is slow due to the long lines for gasoline, but we are getting people coming out."
At two local gas stations, Pizzuto said he sees about 80 cars lined up at each station daily since the storm. Two to four blocks toward the coast from his house, homes and vehicles were all nearly completely under water and destroyed. Trees are down and basements remain flooded further away from the coast.
"I've been here all my life and this is the worst I've ever seen," he said. "The next time they tell me to evacuate, I will. That's for sure."