On October 29, 2012, Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc across the Northeast leaving much of Long Island in disarray. The small ocean-side community of Long Beach was left powerless, masked with sand and washed away by the storm’s surging waters. Residents were forced to flee their homes, only to return to little or nothing. Doug O’Grady, a lifelong resident of Long Beach, was one of them. His basement was flooded by almost seven feet of water, leaving the house uninhabitable. He and his family were evacuated from their West Fulton Street residence and relocated to Shelter Island – a two hour drive from friends, family and most importantly, his sons’ school.
O’Grady endured the two-hour commute for four weeks after the storm hit, bringing his two children to their elementary school each day, while spearheading the reconstruction of his own home and community. He launched a relief program with hopes of getting his hometown back on its feet.
After hearing stories of out-of-state relief efforts charging between $13,000 and $20,000 to gut homes, O’Grady knew it was up to him to help his neighbors. He first reached out to them with a Facebook post offering help “FREE OF CHARGE.”
The response was instant. O’Grady began meeting groups of volunteers in the parking lot of the Long Beach Waldbaum’s and walking the streets of Long Beach assisting, in any way possible. On the first day, he mustered enough helping hands to tackle six houses.
“None of these people should have to pay,” O’Grady said. “They are victims. People would walk through [their homes] and have no idea what to do. That’s where I stepped in. I showed them how and then moved on to help someone else.”
His mission was to focus on high priority victims – the elderly, disabled and uninsured. He shared the individual stories of people he helped and those who still needed assistance through his Facebook page rallying more and more volunteers to commit to the cause.
Volunteers varied from his fellow union workers with the New York City Carpenters Local 45, to Mormon Missionaries to local college athletic teams – including Hofstra University Equestrian, Stony Brook Football and CW Post Baseball. He even began to notice passersby beginning to help; one retired man traveling through the area was able to gut two houses with O’Grady in one day.
“It was the kindness of others that motivated me, to the point where I was almost in tears,” O’Grady said.
O’Grady lost count at about 175 homes. And that is still just a dent in the workload required to rehabilitate the neighborhood destruction. As of three weeks ago, the West End of Long Beach remains a ghost town. Its mile-long stretch of roughly 150 homes has been deserted since the Halloween-time storm, most recently dilapidated by a pipe burst that went unaccounted for because of its isolation.
“It’s still so bad. No one can live there,” O’Grady said. “It’s those people who still need help. That’s the next step.”
O’Grady has tirelessly continued his efforts, now 18 weeks after the storm, working seven days a week and helping Long Beach rebuild after the devastation. He has created the Mohawk Ave. Saint Foundation which will foster grants for plumbing and electric repairs in the rebuilding process. The foundation will also ensure that all homes rebuilt are environmentally friendly and meet the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) standards.
“I don’t want any of these houses to be built out of wood,” O’Grady said. “This can’t happen again. They need to be able to withstand 160 MPH winds, resist water and fire, and need to be ‘green’ so families aren’t burdened with higher taxes. I’m going to do everything I can to protect the people. I’m a lifelong resident and I’ll always go back to where I grew up, and so should everyone else,” O’Grady said.
For his ongoing initiative, generosity and determination to rebuild his town, the New York Islanders and TD Bank honored O’Grady during the Thursday, Mar. 7 home game against the New York Rangers. He was recognized with a standing ovation as his story was told to a sold out crowd at Nassau Coliseum.
“After the natural disaster, we heard many stories of people helping out their neighbors,” TD Bank’s Vice President of Suburban New York Marketing Eric Fishon said. “Doug’s story stood out. He helped, but he continues to help. He has gone above and beyond in his relief efforts and his determination to get Long Beach up-and-running is remarkable. It is an honor and privilege to partner with the Islanders and honor our hometown hero.”
The devastation from Superstorm Sandy is still felt across Long Island. For more information on how you can help, contact Doug O’Grady at (516) 318-3747 or visit his Facebook page where it all started by CLICKING HERE.