Queens families: Power company to blame for homes burned during Sandy

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 - 10:13am

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Seventeen families from the New York City borough of Queens are planning to sue the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), blaming the company for a devastating fire that destroyed more than 130 homes during Superstorm Sandy.

"Damages were sustained as a result of the negligence, gross negligence, carelessness and recklessness of the Long Island Power Authority," the plaintiffs say in their "notice of claim," which is a filing required in many areas before a lawsuit can occur.

"At no time before or during the storm surge in Breezy Point (a Queens beachside neighborhood), and in the Rockaway Peninsula, generally, did respondent Long Island Power Authority suspend provision of electricity in those areas," the plaintiffs state.

The notice of claim maintains that despite flood and storm warnings, and knowledge that Breezy Point was in the mandatory evacuation zone, LIPA failed to shut down or "de-energize" power in the area, which would have prevented the blaze.

A spokesman for LIPA, Mark Gross, said Tuesday: "We reviewed the notices of claim, and have no comment at this time."

The claim quotes New York City Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano as saying the fires "were sparked by sea water impacting electrical systems and components in and around these structures."

Referring to the plantiffs in the case, the notice of claim declares, "The Breezy Point neighborhood, including (plaintiffs' houses), turned into an inferno ... The fire spread to destroy more than 130 homes and severely damaged approximately 30 others."

The filing also contends that LIPA knew the risks posed by the impending floodwater, and says that the company took necessary precautions in other parts of Long Island and had taken similar steps in Breezy Point during past storms.

"There's no rational reason for not cutting the power," said Bob Sullivan, a partner at Sullivan, Papain, Block, McGrath & Cannavo, the firm representing the plaintiffs. "To temporarily cut that power would have prevented these fires."

Linda Strong, one of the plaintiffs, was born in Breezy Point and lost the house she moved into in 1979 during the fire.

"I went to my son's in Bensonhurst and their power was turned off because of the water coming up," Strong told CNN. Sitting in candlelight at her son's house, Strong thought the same precautionary measures had been taken in her community.

"I had no idea my house was burning down," she said.

The 17 claimant families plan to seek $1 million each in damages, according to the notice of claim. Sullivan said he expects that additional parties will be permitted to make subsequent claims, given the circumstances surrounding the case.

"I think the lawsuit has teeth," Sullivan told CNN. "I think it'll be successful.

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