After Hurricane Sandy | The Story of Michael McDonnell | Belle Harbor

Panorama of Michael McDonnell’s home. Click to expand. Large file please be patient to load.

During the storm, Michael McDonnell was in his kitchen when there was an explosion. The windows blew out, and water started to rush into the house. He went to his front steps the water level was rising. Red-hot embers showered down. There was a heavy smoke smell, and a red-orange glow coming from his neighbor’s house behind his home. He told his landlords Bruce and Janet to get their son Joey, to gather their important papers, and tell Cindy, the other tenant, to do the same. “… Because we are never coming back,” he told them. He was worried about fire.

Michael McDonnell, 51 years old a fisherman and surfer, stands in front of his home which burned to the ground during Hurricane Sandy.

The water was rising fast. It was at the top of the steps, nearly chest high on his over 6-foot build. Janet was terrified of water. He carried her, and brought the others next door. This was his childhood home. His neighbors Kate and Jim, the current tenants, purchased the home from the owners who had purchased it from Michael’s parents.

He told Kate, and Jim to gather their papers as another explosion rocked the air and more embers fell around them and down on the house, “As if you shook up a snow-globe,” as Mike described it. The storm-surge was rushing down the street, now nearly seven feet high. The water was moving fast, too fast to swim across the street to safety. Mike had an idea. He searched for rope, but found nothing but a few foot-lengths of yellow twine. He instructed everyone to gather extension cords, chargers, whatever could be found.

Michael McDonnell, 51 years old a fisherman and surfer, stands in front of his childhood home which was reduced to ash during Hurricane Sandy. He holds makeshift rope that he used to save the lives of six people during the storm-surge. He lived next door at 250 beach 130th St, which also burned to the ground.

The makeshift rope, scavenged from lengths twine, and extension cords, that Michael McDonnell knotted together and used to save the lives of his neighbors during Hurricane Sandy.

A lifelong fisherman, he fastened the scavenged pieces together, using the best knot that he knew. Then, he knotted them again. He tied the ‘rope’ to a tree in front of the house. Even if the ‘rope’ were long enough to reach across the road, he could not swim across to tie it off because the current was too fast. Doors, couches, water boilers were rushing down the street.

His neighbor Dylan saw what was happening. Dylan, a lifeguard and surfer, grabbed his surfboard, and paddled out a ways where the current was not too strong. Michael threw him the ‘rope’ and Dylan tied it to the wrought iron steps.

The water was above Michael’s head, nearly 7 feet high, he would have to hold his breath. He knew the road was raised in the center, and there he would be able to take another breath and keep going. He put Janet on Dylan’s Surfboard and helped carry Bruce, Joey, Cindy, Kate, and Jim to safety.

Michael McDonnell’s blue pickup truck, one of the last things he owns, parked near the remains of his home. Michael’s home caught fire during the storm surge of Hurricane Sandy, most of the block would catch fire and burn as well. Michael helped his neighbors escape the flooding waters and fire.

Michael says, “Joey told me; ‘…you saved my whole family’ and other people tell me, ‘you are a hero Mike’, but I am not a hero… I was just determined and focused.”

Michael looks like a cop or a firefighter, with a stern presence, but is the sales director and celebrity concierge for a company called Chef’s Diet. “It’s never been better to go into work,” he said “…I have heat here, hot water and warm food.”

Now, Michael lives in his blue pickup, the only thing that he has left. “This is my bedroom…” he says as he points to the cab “…and this is my living room,” he points to the front seat. “I am staying here to help my neighbors, because of what Dylan did for me and what my neighbors did for me.” His blue and red eyes well-up with emotion. He bites his lip, “We are here for each other because no one else is.” He walks away down the street, his big thick arms full of turkey sandwiches to pass out to his neighbors.

 

The battered and burned canopy of the Harbor Light Pub. One local resident called the pub “…the Cheers of Belle Harbor.” The restaurant was completely destroyed by fire and water during Hurricane Sandy.

Scorched remains of the staircase and wall socket from Michael McDonnell’s home. A blaze erupted during the storm surge that accompanied Hurricane Sandy. The wind spread the fire from house to house destroying everything, leaving nothing but ash.

Utility boxes and a twisted gnarled heap which used to be Michael McDonnell’s home. A blaze erupted during the storm surge that accompanied Hurricane Sandy. The wind spread the fire from house to house destroying everything, leaving little standing.

The front facing view of Michael McDonnell’s home. A blaze erupted during the storm surge that accompanied Hurricane Sandy. The wind spread the fire from house to house destroying everything, leaving little standing.

 

  • http://twitter.com/Stephen_Bray Stephen BRAY

    A story of story of innitiative and courage that no doubt was repeated elsewhere but remained untold. I wonder how the loss of his home since childhood with affect Michael O’Donnell? Whatever his future he may be sure that he’s made of the right stuff.

  • Kristen

    I am proud to say, this is my uncle. One of the most courageous, determined and strong willed person I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. This is just who he is. Yes we all will miss that house but the memories there will never be forgotten. Uncle mike, I know grandpa is looking down and smiling at what you’ve done and continue to do for this family. I am so incredibly proud of you and love you with all my heart.
    -Kristen

  • http://www.facebook.com/elizabeth.c.torres.39 Elizabeth Chimienti Torres

    Kristen please tell your uncle to call me…I’m an old friend… My name is Liz Chimienti.. I would rent a bungaloo every summer with my son Joe O’Neill….Thanks so much…my # is 917-250-9449 ..tell him he’s a hero!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/elizabeth.c.torres.39 Elizabeth Chimienti Torres

    what a guy!!!! He was when I knew him 24 years ago !!

  • aj perera

    I had the opportunity to meet Michael when he came to Orlando. And I can say that he is an extraordinary and humble man. Just like you can expect from a hero. Take care Michael. AJ

  • Look_A_Squirrel

    God bless you, Michael.

  • Henry Hawk

    thank you Michael