James West

James West

Climate Desk Producer

James West is senior producer for the Climate Desk and a contributing producer for Mother Jones. He wrote Beijing Blur (Penguin 2008), a far-reaching account of modernizing China’s underground youth scene. James has a masters of journalism under his belt from NYU, and has produced a variety of award-winning shows in his native Australia, including the national affairs program Hack. He's been to Kyrgyzstan, and also invited himself to Thanksgiving dinner after wrongly receiving invites for years from the mysterious Tran family.

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VIDEO: Breezy Point, Queens, Reels From Hurricane-Caused Inferno

| Tue Oct. 30, 2012 8:27 PM PDT

"I think we all can agree we're seeing complete and utter devastation," Brendan Gallagher says, standing in front of the charred remains of his childhood home.

Just a short drive from New York City's famous Rockaway beaches, Breezy Point, Queens, is a quaint seaside hamlet where many cops and firefighters come to retire. It's a place known for charming historic bungalows and sweeping ocean views, but on Monday night it quickly became the setting for some of Hurricane Sandy's most terrifying damage.

As a massive storm surge swept in with the gale-force winds, an as-yet-unknown source sparked a fire that, according to New York City Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano, ultimately leveled more than 100 homes—luckily, most residents heeded early evacuation warnings and no one was killed. Today, locals waded back in through still-receding flood waters to assess the damage while firefighters—some off-duty, picking through the wreckage of friends' and neighbors' homes—tamped down the smoldering ruins.

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PHOTOS: Hurricane Sandy Creeps Up on Brooklyn

| Mon Oct. 29, 2012 1:50 PM PDT

In Red Hook, a neighborhood along New York Harbor featuring low-lying land and industrial piers, sandbags weren't enough to prevent flooding, not just of seawater but also curious tourists, locals and television vans. A storm surge of between 6 to 11 feet tonight and into Tuesday morning is expected for areas like Red Hook. Dr. Alan Blumberg, an oceanographer with the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, has been keeping tabs on the storm surge with 200 sensors around the New York harbor. "We've been making measurements for 80 years," he says. "This is the worst we've ever recorded."

Winds became increasingly strong across the afternoon, narrowing the window for locals of "Zone A" to evacuate safely from the area. Officials are making final, strenuous arguments for locals to heed evacuation warnings.

Bill Johnson and Yolanda Dlamo (not pictured) were taking a break from preparing their Park Slope home ahead of Hurricane Sandy. "We're at the bottom of the street," said Johnson, "so if this floods we’re concerned about how much water we’re going to get in our area." In the meantime, like a lot of New Yorkers, they were greeting the storm with caution and curiosity.

Ulf Agger, above, from Brooklyn Heights, felt safe in his apartment. "I’m not scared, but I'm concerned. I think mostly about people who live in the lower areas, and all the flooding that will come," he said. "It still looks pretty calm, but you can see the water is much higher than it usually is. But I expect it to be here where we stand in a few hours' time."

Carol Serrano (right) and Nayda Ortiz decided to stay in Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood, despite mandatory evacuations, recalling what they thought were over-hyped precautions during last year's Hurricane Irene disaster.

"It’s beautiful and scary," Ortiz said, laughing with wonderment at the rising seas.

"This is exciting, this is cleansing," Serrano said. "I just don’t want to go anywhere this time. I want to be home. Home is cool: I have food; I have TV; if we don’t have lights, we have games."

"It’s scary, but I'm not scared, I think it’s more exciting than scary!" Ortiz said. "Isn't it fun? You guys are out here too!"

The couple came dressed for the occasion:

Additional reporting by Tim McDonnell.

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