Local couple has 22 family members from devastated NYC neighborhood

One man nearly swept into ocean, saved by neighbor

POSTED: 12:21 AM Oct 31 2012   UPDATED: 5:14 AM Oct 31 2012

A New Bern couple watched disaster unfold Tuesday, waiting for word on a family member who was nearly swept away by devastating storm surge.

Donna and Wally Schultz first met in Breezy Point, N.Y., the New York City neighborhood that suffered some of the worst devastation from Hurricane Sandy.

Donna's brother-in-law, Timmy Kearney, is one of 22 Schultz family members who live in Breezy Point. When a fire spread to at least 80 homes late Monday and water flowed in from the ocean, Kearney made a desperate attempt to leave.

"He was in water today up to his chest," said Donna in an interview Tuesday. "He was grabbing onto a fence and screaming for help. He was panicking."

A wave nearly carried Kearney away as Breezy Point burned, but a neighbor grabbed onto him and saved his life. Much of the area is now burned to the ground, unrecognizable from the day when Wally and Donna met at 6 Irving Walk.

"Six Irving Walk burned to the ground last night," Wally said. "Eighty homes burning to the ground, thank God that everybody got out."

The blaze began around 7:30 p.m. Monday, spreading rapidly between homes because of high winds. Crews battled the flames for nine hours, and and used boats to rescue people from burning homes. Entire city blocks were razed, smouldering into the early morning hours.

Most of the Shultz's Breezy Point family heeded the mandatory evacuation and sought refuge in Manhattan and New Jersey.  Two of the three houses belonging to Donna's siblings are now uninhabitable, but the houses are the least of her concerns.

"You can replace all of that," Donna said. "But just the fact that you have your life, after all this, thank God."

No deaths were reported from the Breezy Point destruction. One firefighter and two civilians were treated for minor injuries.