NEW YORK — Marines arrived Sunday in New York City's Staten Island borough, a community devastated by last week's superstorm, to assist local authorities with ongoing cleanup efforts and deliver food to those displaced by the destruction.
Hurricane Sandy, which pummeled the East Coast on Oct. 29 and 30, hit Staten Island particularly hard, accounting for nearly half of the state's storm-related deaths. Twenty-foot waves and a 14-foot storm surge caused massive flooding here, demolishing homes and infrastructure. Nearly a week later, more than 2 million residents remain without electricity, officials said.
Numbering about 20, many in this group of Marines are assigned to Combat Logistics Battalion 26, part of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. Currently, about 300 personnel from the MEU are based aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp, anchored about five miles off New York's Brooklyn borough. Joining the logistics Marines are personnel from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 366, out of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.
Another 30 Marines with Camp Lejeune's 8th Engineer Support Battalion went into the city's Queens borough Sunday. They were tasked with pumping water from flooded basements in low-income communities, said 1st Lt. Timothy Irish, a Marine spokesman based in New York.
The Marines who remain on the Wasp include members of the 26th MEU's command element and personnel mostly assigned to helicopter units out of MCAS Cherry Point and MCAS New River, N.C. By law, states must request military assistance before troops can participate in domestic missions.
The 26th MEU, commanded by Col. Matthew G. St. Clair, suspended its pre-deployment training Thursday upon receiving orders to head for the Northeast. Its personnel are capable of providing medical, engineering and logistics support along with airlift. The MEU operates CH-53 Super Stallion and UH-1N Huey helicopters as well as MV-22 Osprey tiltrotors, which can take off and land like helicopters and fly like airplanes.
Additional personnel could come ashore Monday, Marine officials said.
Helping with cleanup and transportation
On Sunday morning, Marines went to work stuffing garbage bags and hauling debris away from people's homes. They went into backyards and basements, removing waterlogged possessions and appliances wrecked during the flooding.
Arben Kote, a Staten Island resident, recalled watching her possessions "just floating away." She and her family, who were unharmed during the storm, are grateful for the help.
It is reassuring "to see the military come in, lifting heavy stuff we couldn't have moved ourselves," Kote told Marine Corps Times.
Cpl. Thomas Cavallo and Cpl. Nic Dunsworth, CH-53 helicopter airframe mechanics with HMH-366, carried a ruined washing machine out from the basement of Staten Island resident Jimmy Cioffi's home. Cavallo, who grew up nearby on Long Island and has family in Brooklyn and Bay Shore, said he felt a personal responsibility to be here.
"It feels good to help the people I grew up with, the people I grew up around," Cavallo said. "We're just going house to house and seeing who needs help. It feels amazing to help out other U.S. citizens, giving back the support they give us."
On Saturday, a group of 20 Marines and sailors from the Wasp went ashore in Hoboken, N.J., to help remove debris and repair a ferry pier at the city's main commuter hub, Hoboken Terminal. Located across the Hudson River from New York City, Hoboken suffered extreme damage from the storm, and many residents remain without electricity. The ferry system provides transportation to and from their jobs in Manhattan.
Navy Deck Seaman Bradley Wolf was at the pier Saturday. When the Marines and sailors arrived, he said, a piece of the pier was jutting out, rendering it nonfunctional. Navy hull technicians used cutting torches to remove the useless metal, causing it to fall into the water. Marines and sailors then pulled it from the river, and moved it out of the way.
With the broken piece of the pier removed, its operators are clear to do repairs and get the ferry terminal back in working order. NY Waterway, which runs the ferry line, expects service between Hoboken and Manhattan to be restored by Monday, officials said in a news release.
One Marine called the experience humbling. Knowing that thousands of people rely on the ferry to bring them to and from work each day, it was imperative the Marines and sailors did what they could to help, said Sgt. Tyler James Byfield, a combat engineer with the 26th MEU's battalion landing team, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines.
"It really hits you hard at home to see people struggling," Byfield said. "… These are our own people. … Transportation is a big deal here, and it's important that people be able to get back to work and back to their lives."
After the team finished, as they awaited their helicopter ride back to the Wasp, several Hoboken residents stopped to say thanks. Nisarg Shah, who lives in neighboring North Bergen, works in New York and rides the ferry. He was walking with his wife and cousin when they saw the Marines.
They requested a photograph and expressed their gratitude.
"We are privileged to have them," Shah said. "It gives you a sense of protection knowing that they are here in our time of need."