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Belle Harbor Man Rescues Six Neighbors From House Fire With Makeshift Rope Ladder, Surf Board

Mike McDonnell (credit: Alex Silverman/WCBS 880)

Mike McDonnell (credit: Alex Silverman/WCBS 880)

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Superstorm Sandy

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Compounding the devastation in the Rockaways from superstorm Sandy, a big house fire broke out amid the flooding on the day of the storm. But one man came to the rescue and saved six neighbors.

Mike McDonnell has lived on Beach 130th Street in Belle Harbor his whole life.

WCBS 880′s Alex Silverman reports


“I saw that three homes were on fire. One of the gas lines erupted and a ball of cinders came blowing over the house,” McDonnell told WCBS 880′s Alex Silverman.

McDonnell carried four of his neighbors, one by one, on his back to the house next door. But as the flames spread, McDonnell had to think quickly to save his neighbors.

“It was blowing like a blowtorch,” he told Silverman.

McDonnell said he knew they all had to get across the street.

“The water was coming down like a tsunami with doors in it and logs in it,” McDonnell said.

He used extension cords to make a rope ladder to help his neighbors climb to safety.

Another neighbor, Dylan Smith, paddled up with his surf board to help everyone make it across the street.

“He was able to get the cord to the other side, otherwise I would have had to swim through it,” McDonnell said of Smith’s help.

“One by one, we put them on my surf board and brought them over to the house across the street,” Smith told Silverman.

In all, Smith and McDonnell saved six of their neighbors with the makeshift rope ladder.

“Some people have come around the neighborhood and said ‘Mike, you’re a hero.’ I’m not a hero, I was determined and I was focused. I was determined to get them to safe ground and I was focused on doing it as quick as possible,” McDonald said.

McDonnell said he is now living in his car because his home was destroyed. But he said he is confident Rockaway Beach with rebuild and flourish despite the compounded tragedies.

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