In the hectic days after Hurricane Sandy's landfall on the East Coast, members of a National Guard battalion dispatched from Auburn rescued dozens of residents from rising floodwater and helped bring order to portions of Long Island, N.Y.
On Oct. 28, 79 members of the New York State National Guard's 102nd Military Police Battalion, headquartered at the South Street armory, loaded their gear into a convoy of heavy trucks and headed downstate, against the current of evacuating residents and the incoming tide.
In the first 48 hours after their arrival, the battalion's members spent a majority of their time rescuing stranded residents from their homes on the southern Long Island shore.
The specialized high-axle vehicles brought along by the 102nd proved vital in navigating the six feet of water pushed inland by the monster storm, Battalion Commander Capt. Joe Valentino said Friday.
One of the National Guard teams rescued a dozen firefighters stranded in a flooded home after their truck was swamped by the deluge.
"The firefighters took refuge in the home, thinking they could wait out the storm, but they were wet and it started to get cold with winds over 60 mph," Valentino said. "One of the teams took a high-axle vehicle through six feet of water and submerged downed power lines and trees, drove right up to the house and the firefighters climbed out a window and scaled down to the truck."
On the way back to the battalion's temporary base, the same team rescued nine more civilians who were similarly trapped in their homes.
Another team rescued a woman who was in the early stages of labor from her home when no ambulances could reach her. They tried multiple routes through the dangerously high water before finally reaching her and transporting her to safety to deliver her baby.
Sgt. Taih Taylor and Pfc. Scott Hitchcock saved a paralyzed woman from her home as water lapped at her ankles.
"The call was for an elderly woman stranded with medical conditions," Taylor, from Tonawanda, remembered. "When we arrived on the scene, there were a lot of downed trees and three feet of water we had to navigate through.
"We had to take four different routes, but we finally got to the house," the guardsman said. "Inside there was a paraplegic woman in her wheelchair in about a foot of water. The wheelchair had shorted out and the water had pushed the handles of it about three inches into the drywall."
Taylor and Hitchcock joined with local police officers and emergency medical personnel to carry the woman 400 yards to a waiting ambulance.
"It feels god to help people out," Taylor said. "The first two nights, we stayed out probably 26 hours because we refused to come back in. There were just so many people stranded out there."
After the rescue efforts, Valentino said the guard members filled a number of other roles, from setting up shelters; distributing food, water and medicine; removing debris from the roadways and conducting looting patrols.
The 102nd is still is still deployed to Long Island where the commander said the unit will stay until its released from duty.
"The overall message that we try to give people and the motto that we tell our soldiers is we're the guard and we're here to help," Valentino said.