Best of America

Inspiring Stories: The Heroes of Hurricane Sandy

When Sandy hit the East Coast, these American heroes sprang into action, proving that spirit can survive any storm.

On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy battered the East Coast with record-setting flooding and devastating winds. As communities rebuild, we celebrate four people among many who went above and beyond to help neighbors, children, and strangers in need.

The Rescuer in Toms River

heroes of the hurricaneWhen Jack Buzzi looked out the window of his parents’ Jersey Shore home during the worst of the storm, he saw something horrifying: His neighbor’s house was floating by on a surge of water from the Atlantic Ocean that had overwhelmed Barnegat Bay and flooded the area. Part of the top floor had broken off, and the rest of the house was in shambles. At the same time, Buzzi was on the phone with his friend Jack Ward, whose sister Kathey Ward, 60, owned the house. The men feared that Kathey was in danger.

Buzzi, who had hunkered down to ride out Sandy with his fiancée, Melissa Griffith, hung up the phone, threw on boots and a raincoat, and grabbed a flashlight and two life jackets. At a lull in the storm, Buzzi waded through knee-high water toward what remained of Kathey’s house. He tried to yell to Kathey over the howling wind, but she didn’t respond. “The roof had collapsed,” Buzzi says. “I thought she was dead.”

He waded back home and called Jack again. Jack told him he had finally reached his sister on the phone. She was trapped but uninjured. Buzzi headed back into the storm and found her standing on a slab of wood that had been part of a doorway on the second floor of her home. “She was surprisingly calm,” says Buzzi.

“I knew you would come,” Kathey said. She’d been sitting in the only room of the house that didn’t get crushed when the roof caved in. Buzzi gave her a life jacket and escorted her through the receding water to his house.

The next morning, Buzzi and Kathey used a kayak to rescue Kathey’s sister Mary Ward and Mary’s boyfriend, Dave O’Hara, who’d been trapped in the attic of Mary’s flooded bungalow.

Paddling back from Mary’s house, Buzzi spotted local carpenter Nick Spino. “He’d spent the night on his neighbor’s roof,” says Buzzi.

Despite a flooded basement, Buzzi let six neighbors stay with him until they evacuated five days later.

“It’s human nature, right?” he says. “We protect each other.”

Next: The nurses who saved 20 babies in an intensive care unit when New York University’s Langone Medical Center lost power.

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