TODAY | October 31, 2012
>>> as sandy's floodwaters recede and relief efforts get under way, personal stories of tragedy, loss and heroism are emerging. we took a trip out to queens on tuesday running into downed trees and debris all along the way to visit a community that is once again facing enormous loss. it is an indelible image of sandy's destruction. in breezy point, some said whatever wasn't flooded was on fire. in the end, more than 100 homes destroyed.
>> we've got our children and our families.
>> reporter: and just down the coast the same devastation. here in rockaway beach it was also a combination of the storm and fire. flames broke out here at the height of sandy, and because the water was so deep here, fire fighters simply couldn't get in to put them out, so the wind whipped the flames from building to building, home to home. this was the harbor light pub, very well known in this area, one of the reasons the owner of that restaurant lost his son during the attacks of 9/11. and when i got out of the car here a short time ago, i had an immediate and eerie sense of deja vu . the reason is this. back on november 12th , 2001 , american airlines flight 587 took off from john f. kennedy airport , a short distance from here. it wasn't airborne very long, and it came straight down, nose first. it crashed where that gray house is right now. 260 people on board died. i anchored the show from here the next morning. i'm matt lauer in belle harbor where flight 587 crashed into a house behind me, the destruction devastating. it's a neighborhood that has been asked to bear more than it should have to. rockaway lost 57 people on 9/11 and flight 587 crashed here soon after, and now almost every block, homes destroyed, and along with them a lifetime of memories. linda humphry grew up here. talk to me a little bit about this neighborhood.
>> this neighborhood, you can't say enough about this neighborhood. we've been through a lot with, you know, 9/11 and planes crashing and we all pulled together. it's unbelievable, you know, the neighborhood feel you get in rockaway beach and belle harbor here.
>> reporter: these are pictures linda took of sandy battering her neighborhood. she said she decided to stick it out despite a mandatory evacuation thinking last year's hurricane irene wasn't so bad. so did many of her neighbors. the owners of this house barely survived. they fled their home at 6:00 monday night. it broke apart soon after. neighborwide david scharf finds himself searching for keepsakes of places where he learned to ride a bike.
>> i grew up here basically in my childhood home and it's basically gone. the water ripped through here last night and this morning and it's utter devastation.
>> reporter: your parents still live here?
>> my parents still live here. they are safely in brooklyn, and we're trying to salvage the remnants of what's left of the home.
>> reporter: what would you like to find for your parent's sake?
>> i'd like to find some photographs, for my children's sake my childhood photographs. i'd like to find some things from my grandparents that my grandparents had here. these are real treasures. hopefully we find them.
>> reporter: chief james mcnally says his fire fighters fought hard to save this neighborhood. have you ever seen anything like that before where you simply couldn't get in to where the buildings were on fire?
>> 30 years on a fire department . i've been in snowstorms, other hurricanes. units were not able to get into rockaway last night. no units got in here for close to two hours.
>> reporter: what is that like for guys who are trained, to go in and put fires out?
>> i'm sure it was frustrating because units were staged on high ground right across the bridge, and they were able to see the fires, and a lot of them have family and friends over here, and what happened was, you know what, they just couldn't come here. you can't drive a fire truck through five to seven feet of water. we had to wait for the water surge to recede a little bit and by then you can see the results here, catastrophic.
>> back to the harbor light pub burned down where so much happened. the owner tragically lost his son on 9/11. he spoke to us after the crash of flight 587 .
>> everybody, it wasn't an i day, it was a we day and an everybody day. there are so many people in this neighborhood that are firemen and pd, civilians. everybody helped. this community will be together forever.
>> reporter: his words spoken in a different time, echoing and being tested today in a neighborhood that has answered the call before. really was an extraordinary trip out there, and all the people that came up to on the street say i wonder if people at fema know how much they need them now. they have no communication no, electricity. cell phones don't work. they don't know that people out there know about their struggles.
>> astonishing to see and to hear how many of them talk about that close-knit community, but as you said how much can one community be