Written by Ron Scaglia Friday, 04 January 2013 00:00
Sitting in the back of a metal dump truck near the shoreline of Long Island, during the brunt of Superstorm Sandy, was probably one of the most dangerous places anyone could be on the night of Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. Yet, that is exactly where Massapequa Park Mayor James Altadonna was that evening. The brutal winds were toppling trees and bringing down power lines, while water was filling the streets to a level of about five feet in height near the shore. Without regard for his own safety, the mayor along with Richard Muller, general highway supervisor for Massapequa, ventured out into the extremely perilous conditions in order to save residents trapped by the storms and in need of rescue.
Altadonna declined to speak about the events that evening saying only, “I was happy to be in a position where I could help.” However Muller spoke about those events and the story is one of heroic bravery. When we look back at 2012 and the many heroes who helped guide us through the storm, it certainly seems that the Massapequa Park mayor was one of the unsung heroes of that evening.
It all started around 10 p.m. on the night of the devastating storm, when word came to the mayor that there were people stranded near the water who needed to be rescued. The mayor and Muller proceeded in a dump truck to about three blocks north of the bay. A family of three was trapped in a house with one person on crutches whom the mayor carried out to the dump truck. This family, including their dog was rescued by Altadonna and were taken in the dump truck to a safer location, where a family member was able to meet up with them. Just this act alone was quite heroic as the duo made their way through pitch-black streets that were darkened due to the power outages. Water flooded the passageways as the storm continued to pound against Massapequa Park. With power lines falling and the dump truck making its way through a tremendous amount of water, being inside the metal vehicle was precarious as the combination of water, electricity, and metal is quite frightening. However, after rescuing this one family, the mayor continued on.
“He did a great job,” said Muller of Altadonna. “He was as calm as I was. We were just trying to do what we could for the people.”
They met up with police officers who asked them if they were willing to make a few more stops to rescue some more stranded residents. After bringing the first dump truck, which was now tremendously damaged, back to the depot, they set out in a second dump truck. Again they traversed extremely dangerous conditions in an effort to save more residents. They traveled to a location where two houses had burned down to the water line, and the people next-door were in desperate need of rescue.
“It was kind of scary when we pulled up to houses that were burning,” said Muller. “There was still gas in the houses. We’re maybe 15 feet away from houses that were burnt down. Wind was blowing smoke all over. It was very smoky and very dark. It got a little scary.”
Flames were still smoldering and the humming of the gas flowing made for an ominous sound. The mayor escorted the residents out of the home next to the burning structures, and into the dump truck. They were taken to a location where police had set up. Altadonna and Muller continued on in the dump truck, getting to homes where residents were trapped because of the increasing water level and had no path of escape. The mayor and the dump truck became the salvation for about 15 to 20 people that night. The people rescued varied in age from young to elderly, but they were all thankful for the mayor’s bravery. In the end, the two dump trucks were damaged beyond repair. However, the cost could have been far worse had the mayor not sprung into action and become an unsung hero in Massapequa Park during the storm.