BY ALEXA ALTMAN AND MAGGIE HAYES
Sifting through the charred remains of his life-long Breezy Point home, Kieran Burke searched for something left behind.
“You’d be surprised what survives,” he said, soot-encrusted shovel in hand.
Burke’s home, along with 110 others, burned down in the fire that spread throughout the charming beachfront neighborhood during Hurricane Sandy. The storm, displacing thousands, left residents searching through the shattered pieces of their lives on the way to recovery.
Residents of the area claim Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s post-storm presence has been minimal. Several received literature, indicating sources for food, clothing and shelter. Others say the agency is nowhere to be found.
Liz Bianco filled three jugs of water at a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) installed station with her two young daughters, Julian,9, and Leigh,4. The trio’s home, while spared from the blaze, was infiltrated by three feet of sea water. As waves crashed against her front door, she saw embers falling from the sky.
“It was like being in a fire storm,” said Bianco.
All she could think, she said, was to get the hell out.
Nearby, Burke continued to dig.
“There’s going to be a lot of red tape, a lot of politicians and a lot of people with ulterior motives,” said Burke about restoring the hometown he always knew.
Burke, 40, a member of the FDNY, paused his search for a moment to examine a pile of documents spared by the flames. Flipping through the few unscathed sheets, he gasped at an untouched photograph.
The picture — two smiling men on a pristine beach nearly 20 years ago — was Burke and his best friend Matthew, who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
“It’s going to be alright,” he said through tears. “Now I know it’s going to be alright — Matthew’s going to take care of us.”
During the storm, Burke and his wife Jennifer, 39, stayed with his parents in their nearby home. When he saw the fire break out from a few blocks away, Burke immediately ran to help quell the rising flames. Within 15 minutes, his home was ablaze. With only a few minutes to spare, he grabbed their laptop and a few important papers.
Now, with only blackened rubble left, he continued his search for that which was left behind — his wife’s wedding ring.