When Paul Halvorsen, a Wading River resident, made a YouTube video of the devastation he was witnessing in the Rockaways for his children, he never knew it would open the doors for nationwide attention -- and help.
Halvorsen, a communications specialist with the New York City Fire Department who also lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, has spent the past week helping in the Rockaways, in areas including Broad Channel and Belle Harbor, Queens, communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy as scores of homes were swept away by the storm's wrath.
Firemen watched helplessly as scores of homes burned, unable to get there in time with flood waters rising, engines and ladders stalling, and high winds blowing the fire out of control.
The YouTube video Halversen shot depicts Beach 130th Street between Newport and Cronston Streets in the Belle Harbor section of Rockaway, Queens.
After watching the video, the producers of the Katie Couric's new talk show, "Katie," which airs at 3 p.m. on ABC, contacted Halvorsen and asked if they could use his video in a segment airing on Monday.
Halvorsen agreed, but said that when he was offered a stipend, he told the show's representatives that he would rather see the funds used toward helping Sandy-ravaged residents who are struggling for daily survival.
To that end, the "Katie" executives told Halvorsen that trucks loaded with supplies would be sent to the Rockaways, one to the area where the video was shot.
The street Halvorsen filmed has seen its share of pain and a lifetime of devastation -- on Nov. 12, 2001, American Airlines Flight 587 crashed, killing all 260 onboard and five on the street. The homes were rebuilt -- only to be lost again, during Hurricane Sandy. On the same street, during Hurricane Sandy, a gas leak led to the loss of 16 homes and a restaurant.
Halvorsen said he took the video for his daughters, Kelli and Kaitlin, and added that he sometimes shoots videos of experiences at work to share with family and friends.
But the nationwide attention, Halvorsen, is greatly appreciated in an area where the need is dire.
"We keep some necessities on the truck," he said. "As we drive residents flag us down and beg for help. Three days into this they still weren't seeing much aid."
Residents, he said, need every day items, including toilet paper, water, paper plates, cups and other essentials.
"People out here aren't greedy, they only take what they need," he said. "I've been keeping my truck stocked with cases of water; right now I've got six cases on board. When I offer them a case for their family, they say 'Just give me 10 bottles.' One couple I encountered said, 'We only need a dozen bottles. We're not that bad off.' I thought: 'Not that bad off? You've just lost everything.'"
But despite the tragedy that has befallen the community, neighbors remains strong in their bonds with one another.
"The people of this area of the Rockaways are a tough bunch with a strong sense of community," Halvorsen said. "Everyone helping out their neighbors. I keep getting greeted with smiles and happy hellos. I can't find anyone who is bitter; there's a real 'stuff happens' attitude out here."
Looking back on the heart-breaking loss he's witnessed over the past week, Halvorsen said the one lesson that rings true and strong remains: "I'm just that much more thankful now," he said. "Live your life; really live it."