Irish-born contractor digs out hurricane-ravaged basements in Rockaways

Posted: 5:46 PM, Nov 14, 2012
Updated: 2012-11-14 17:46:10-05

BELLE HARBOR, NY (PIX11)— When Donal O’Sullivan, a successful, Irish-born contractor living in northeastern Queens, heard about the devastation left by Hurricane Sandy in the Rockaways, he felt compelled to go see it for himself.

What he found in the southernmost section of the borough, on the Saturday after the October 29th storm, stunned him. “It looked like millions of tons of sand had been dumped in the streets,” O’Sullivan said.

So the businessman from County Kerry mobilized about 150 volunteers, by the next morning, to start digging out residents….either with shovels and buckets…..or with Bobcats donated from his business, Navillus Contracting.

O’Sullivan specializes in commercial construction and provided the concrete for the September 11th Memorial in lower Manhattan. But he saw the need in the Rockaways and wanted to respond.

Donal O’Sullivan mobilized volunteers to start digging out residents in the Rockaways after Sandy deposited acres of sand.

O’Sullivan told PIX 11 that fifty families had signed up for assistance that first, Sunday morning, and by nightfall, one hundred families had asked for help. Since November 4th, the volunteers he’s provided from his company have dug out some 300 families. A father of six, O’Sullivan’s daughters, Katie and Caroline, have been taken part in the relief effort.

PIX 11 and the Morning News was at one home on Beach 126th Street Wednesday morning, as O’Sullivan’s crew dug out the basement of homeowner, Liz Gatto, where the sand was piled four feet high. Gatto held her one year old daughter, Ella, in her arms–as she watched the activity from the dilapidated boardwalk across the street, where a car was buried in the sand. Gatto said she’s lived in the Rockaways for 34 years of her life, and she never got a drop of water in her house, not even after Hurricane Irene in the summer of 2011. This time, the ocean came crashing over the top of her home, which she had evacuated. The electrical system will have to be replaced, before she moves back in, but she’s grateful her family is safe.

The Rockaways served as a summer resort datiing back to the 1830’s, but with the advent of inexpensive airline travel in the 1960’s, tourism there waned. Many people, though, started living there year-round. In Far Rockaway, after World War Two, public housing was built, and many residents there have suffered badly, after the power and heat outages caused by the hurricane.

PIX 11 Cares sent anchor, Sukanya Krishnan, to Broad Channel on Wednesday, with Mary Murphy in Belle Harbor, next to Rockaway Beach, and Mike Gilliam reporting from Breezy Point, and then, Far Rockaway. You can see their various reports, from a three hour broadcast on PIX 11 Morning News, by clicking on the PIX 11 Cares link.