Parts of the northeastern U.S. are still recovering from one of the worst storms to hit the area. "Superstorm Sandy" killed more than 100 people, knocked out power to millions and took a bite out of the famous Jersey Shore.
First responders from across the country made the trip to New York to help with recovery efforts. Tuesday night, a team of local emergency managers returned to Tampa.
We caught up with those first responders from Polk, Pinellas, Pasco and Citrus counties. They've had a long trip, gone since November 9th. Now, they're home just in time for Thanksgiving, and they've left behind many families who are thankful for their efforts.
"And the things we saw, really eye-opening," said Tom Iovino with Pinellas County Communications.
They are exhausted but exhilarated from the work they did in the New York Tri-state.
"Their days have been 14 to 15 hour days, midnight shifts, double-backs, whatever it took to get the job done," said Lynn Blackwell. Blackwell's husband Doug Blackwell works with Pinellas County Emergency Management, was part of a 14-member team deployed to New York City to help people bounce back from Sandy.
They arrived at Tampa International Airport to cheers and lots of well wishes, hugs and kisses from family and friends.
"They're craving sleep, desperately," Blackwell said. Yet many of the managers told us, they were torn on returning home.
"We're all pretty emotional about that actually," said Doug Blackwell, who got choked-up a little bit just talking about it. "There's a lot left to do and there's gonna be a lot more in the days ahead, possibly years ahead."
"Areas of Staten Island that were pushed a half mile inland were just giant debris fields," said Iovino, who is a New York City native. He said by the time they landed, the shock of the storm had worn off and it was time to get into full-on recovery mode.
"The people of New York are resilient, they're coming back hard," he said. "They're coming back strong."
"The main transport is their feet. There's cars and boats in the middle of the street, one of the buildings that we were located at was, if you stood in front of the building, it had five and a half feet of water in it," said Captain Andy Fossa of Pasco Fire Rescue, who went out with a crew on a public health mission in the Rockaways. The need there, he said, was overwhelming.
"We had crews that went door to door, and knocked on every single door, every unit of every building," Fossa said.
They got food, water, blankets, even prescriptions filled for the people stranded there. Anything that needed to be done, they did it.
"We've done those in 2004 actually in Polk County, so I was able to relate to what they were going through," said Judy Tear with the Citrus County Health Department. "And I know the process and know the good that was really happening out there."
Twenty-four hour operations ended Sunday.
"It was very difficult to leave the people, knowing that they were going to spend Thanksgiving Day working this operation, and we got to come home to our families, and Thanksgiving dinner without them," said Tear. "So, it's a bond that we'll never break."
With the holiday just two days away now, it's estimated there are hundreds of families still without power or without a place to live. Our local emergency officials say they made lots of new connections on their goodwill trip, which will no doubt be a bonus when we are in need here. But clearly, there's lots of work left to do.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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