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Queens residents hit by Sandy file lawsuit against power company

By Brittany Brady, CNN
updated 1:58 PM EDT, Wed July 3, 2013
  • A fire sparked by Superstorm Sandy destroyed 126 homes on Long Island
  • It was ignited when storm surge water came into contact with a home's electrical system
  • Residents say Long Island Power Authority and National Grid, should have cut power
  • "The effort to place fault for this tragedy with the utility is misplaced," LIPA says

New York (CNN) -- More than 100 people who lost their homes in a fire that devastated Long Island's Rockaway peninsula during Superstorm Sandy last fall have filed a lawsuit against the power companies they claim are responsible, according to their attorney.

The fire, which destroyed 126 homes and damaged 22 in the Breezy Point neighborhood, began when rising sea water came into contact with the electrical system of a home around 8:30 p.m. on October 29, according to the Fire Department New York. The fire was not brought under control until around 6:30 the next morning because the storm surge flooding kept firefighters out of the area.

Fueled by hurricane-force winds, the fire quickly spread from home to home, FDNY said in a press release in December.

The lawsuit argues that Long Island Power Authority and National Grid should have shut off power to their neighborhood, in the New York City borough of Queens, before the bad weather hit, as they did with Fire Island, just off the south shore of Long Island.

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"Had LIPA and National Grid acted responsibly in preparing for the storm, my clients would be living in their homes with all of their life's possessions, and these two communities would not look like a war zone," the plaintiffs' attorney, Keith Sullivan, said in a statement released Tuesday.

Billy Heeran, 35, lost the restaurant his family had owned for 33 years in the fire. A firefighter who has lived in the Rockaways his whole life, Heeran was also one of the men fighting the fires in Breezy Point that night.

His second-floor condo in the area that overlooks the beach was safe by just inches, he said.

"I just want not a penny more, not a penny less than what it costs to rebuild," Heeran said. Although the lawsuit does not seek a specific dollar amount, the damages to the area exceeded $80 million, and continue to rise since none of the 120 clients have been able to begin rebuilding, Sullivan said.

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Heeran said his insurance claim covered only about a quarter of the $2.5 million to $3 million it would cost to rebuild his business. He, along with his brother, father and business partner, had paid off the mortgage to the restaurant 15 years ago, he said.

"We shouldn't have to pay another mortgage again for something that could have been prevented," he said.

"Electricity and salt water is a deadly combination, we would have thought the power companies knew this already," Sullivan said.

LIPA officials stood by their actions in a written statement.

"While we are sensitive to those families and individuals who suffered tragic losses from Sandy, the effort to place fault for this tragedy with the utility is misplaced," the statement says.

Sullivan, who is from the Rockaway area, said the issue has become very personal for him.

"We all watched those fires rage during the storm and were standing in front of the homes that were reduced to smoldering ash and rubble the next morning, trying to make sense of why this was allowed to happen," he said.

Weather disasters cost $110 billion in 2012