Part of a home rests upside-down in Seaside Heights, N.J Click for more photos

Sandy leaves death and destruction in its wake

Part of a home rests upside-down in Seaside Heights, N.J Photo: AP Photo/Julio Cortez

''THE damage was massive and widespread. This is New York's Katrina,'' said the director of security for Breezy Point, Dennis Dier.

As hurricane Sandy raged, it whipped up a fire that destroyed 111 homes and damaged 20 more in the neighbourhood in New York's Queens borough.

The Deputy Assistant Fire Chief, John Mooney, estimated that more than 200 firefighters were battling the flames at one point. Most of the homes were empty at the time, as residents heeded calls to evacuate the peninsula.

John Whelan, 39, who decided to ride out the storm, fled to a neighbour's two-storey home when the water was waist-deep. Flames were ''jumping from house to house'', he said.

A water main went out, making it impossible for volunteers to use the fire hydrants, Mr Dier said. Eventually, fire engines were able to draft ocean water to bring the flames under control.

The ''terrible fire'' was one of 23 serious blazes in the city during the storm, New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said.

''If any of you saw the pictures on television, it looked like a forest fire out in the midwest. The winds were just devastating, blowing from one building to the next one and those buildings were close together,'' he said.

The home of a Republican congressman, Bob Turner, was among those that flooded and then burned, his chief of staff, Michael Giuliani, said.

Before the fire, the neighbourhood was already overwhelmed by the storm surge.

''It came like a river,'' said Bob Fitzsimmons, 75, who stayed in his home last year during hurricane Irene and decided to stick it out again for Sandy. One minute his home on the north-eastern edge of Breezy Point was dry and the next minute the water was over a metre deep, he said.

Breezy Point sits near the western tip of the peninsula, which is bordered to the north by Rockaway Inlet and Jamaica Bay and to the south by the Atlantic.

The community was hard-hit by the September 11 terrorist attacks because of its population of police officers and firefighters.

Bloomberg