LINCOLN COUNTY, N.C. -- Joe Corvino and his son Paul Strout are paging through the pictures on their laptop computer.
“That picture you're looking at is 19 days of cleanup already,” remarked Joe, about the street where they handed out cleaning supplies in Breezy Point, New York.
“There was a beach on one side and beach on the other, so they pretty much got slammed by both sides,” replied Paul.
That portion of Queens was devastated by both water from Hurricane Sandy’s surge, and a fire that spread through neighborhoods quickly in high winds. The one-two punch left the town in ruins.
The photos show sand piled up in the streets, alongside garbage and debris of splintered homes. Empty footings sit in rows like stone markers while the homes they once held up sit down the street. Some are sideways; some are demolished.
And yet the pictures don’t compare to the two men’s memories.
“I don't care what you see on the television,” said Joe, “standing there and smelling it and breathing it…” His voice trails off as he remembers.
Joe and Paul and Joe’s daughter Lucia Corvino responded to Sandy as Red Cross volunteers. The Lincoln County family was one of the first from the Charlotte area to leave on October 27th – tasked with setting up shelters in advance of the storm.
Three weeks later, on Saturday morning, they returned home worn out and with stories to tell.
Joe and Paul spent the first week and a half working at shelters in Ryebrook, Mount Vernon, and Chappaqua, New York. Ryebrook was hit hard as trees and power lines came down. Flooding and downed lines meant many residents lost power.
But the worst was still waiting for them, in Breezy Point. The father and son switched their deployment from shelters to distribution in the hard-hit area.
“I remember coming up over the bridge,” said Paul, recalling his first ride over the bridge to the peninsula. “It literally looked like somebody had dropped an atom bomb in that spot and there was literally no houses whatsoever.”
As he handed out supplies, he was struck by how many people thanked him for being there. “It was a lot, it was a lot to take in at the time.”
Joe was overwhelmed by the loss of lives and property as he tried to help those who remained.
“I said take one for your neighbor,” said Joe, “and he put his head down and he profoundly said, ‘I don't have any neighbors.’ And that was just… a wake-up call. His neighbors were gone, and quite a few people perished there.”
Daughter Lucia, just 19 and dispatching crews from headquarters in White Plains and Manhattan, listened as volunteers came back and told what they had seen.
"It was eye-opening," she said. “These are people who really need our help, and the people who are here helping -- are making a difference.”
After three weeks, the Red Cross asked Joe Corvino’s family to stay longer, but they knew they had to come home. They needed a rest, both mentally and physically.
“It was incredible, an incredible journey if you will,” said Joe. They all said they won’t forget what they saw – or the people they met.
“It wasn't just my little bit of help,” said Paul. “It was the whole nation coming together to help out.”