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Breezy Point Families To Sue LIPA Over Massive Fire

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - One of the most enduring and painful images from Superstorm Sandy was the smoldering barren wasteland, the scorched swath that is Breezy Point, Queens.

It was there that 130 homes burned to the ground. And as CBS 2's Don Dahler reported, 17 of those families say they plan to sue the Long Island Power Authority.

Three months after Sandy, a large section of Breezy Point looked like a wasteland. Empty, bulldozed lots alternated with some charred bones of 130 homes where people used to live.

On Oct. 29 when Sandy hit, a wall of flames marched house to house, consuming everything in its path.

And the families now suing have said that while Sandy may have caused the flooding and the wind, it was LIPA that obliterated the homes.

The families contend the utility should have cut the power ahead of Sandy's surge. They say ocean water coming in contact with energized wires sparked the wind-fueled fireball that ravaged the neighborhood.

The families have started the process to sue the power company for at least $1 million each. They said LIPA could have saved their homes if they had followed company protocol and turned off the electricity to the neighborhood.

"The preliminary reports that have been issued by the Fire Department, at least verbally, are that the fire was started by sparks caused by seawater coming in contact with the live power," said the plaintiffs' attorney, Nick Papain.

Breezy Point Families To Sue LIPA Over Massive Fire

Regina Heggerty is among those who want LIPA to accept responsibility.

"If I didn't have a fire, I'd have my little tiny, unpretentious 1935 bungalow, my favorite place in the whole world and they stole all that from us," she told WCBS 880 reporter Sean Adams. "My grandkids are heartbroken. My children, my children are angry. I can't go down there without crying."

Another plaintiff, Linda Strong, had lived in Breezy Point all her life.

"Everything in the house was gone. Everything," Strong said. "We found nothing."

Strong had a photo documenting the moment she first saw what was left of her home.

"When we turned the corner to my area, it was like somebody set off an atom bomb," Strong said. "It was just awful."

The plaintiffs said other utility companies, including Con Edison, shut down power in Lower Manhattan and Coastal Brooklyn at the height of the storm. The Rockaways, where Breezy Point is located, are unique in New York City in that they are served by LIPA rather than Con Ed.

Residents said if LIPA had turned off the power ahead of time as Con Ed did, all they would be facing now is flood and wind damage and not a neighborhood wiped off the map by flames. They said homeowners' insurance will cover much of the damage, but not the loss of so many irreplaceable items.

"It didn't have to happen," Strong said. "I could have been back in my house now, today."

And as communities rethink their preparations for the next storm, the families want power companies to learn from the mistakes as well, to prevent this from ever happening again.

LIPA did turn off the electricity on Fire Island, far to the east in Suffolk County, before Sandy hit. When asked about the lawsuit, LIPA officials told CBS 2 they had no comment.

LIPA has drawn heated consternation ever since Sandy, to the point where a powerful Moreland Commission called for the power company to be done away with altogether.

LIPA replaced the much-criticized LILCO in 1998.

Do you think LIPA is to blame for the fire in Breezy Point? Leave your comments below...

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