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Young Army veteran leads cleanup crew on storm-stricken Staten Island

Frank Recce didn’t wait for the cavalry to come. He created one.

When superstorm Sandy socked Staten Island last week, the 24-year-old longshoreman from the borough’s Great Kills section sprang into action, connecting neighbors with able-bodied men who helped clear debris, pumped away filthy floodwater and removed rain-soaked sheetrock from homes in New Dorp and Oakwood Beach.

“We’re basically giving the people of the neighborhood organization,” Recce told FoxNews.com. “We were able to hit more than 200 houses by Monday. We’ve done more for our community than FEMA, the Red Cross and the National Guard combined, directly hitting houses and people in need.”

What began as a ragtag group of 12 men has grown into expectations of more than 100 volunteers this weekend as the group — using the name Brown Cross — will resume its operations after taking a much-needed planning day on Thursday, Recce said.

We’ve done more for our community than FEMA, the Red Cross and the National Guard combined, directly hitting houses and people in need.”

- Frank Recce

“It basically signifies that we’re willing to get dirty, to do the labor,” Recce said of the group’s name. “And we’re from the neighborhood; we’re strictly from the neighborhood.”

Working from its base at 80 Marine Way, Recce said the group utilizes walkie-talkies to take reports of damaged homes directly and then dispatches a crew of men to that location as quickly as possible.

“It’s all time-sensitive because of mold,” Recce said. “But if I get intelligence about a house with someone sick and in need, we will go there first.”

Recce, an Army veteran who received a Purple Heart after being wounded in Iraq, said he wasn’t shocked by the disaster response from federal agencies, but questioned whether authorities were truly prepared for the storm.

“I understood that a lot of people were taken aback at how serious the storm was,” he said. “I don’t think people were ready for it all. I don’t know if the government was on the same level.”

Recce continued: “[Victims] thanked us so much; we drained their basements and I didn’t see FEMA there.”

After aggravating a previous injury, Recce’s right foot is now in a protective boot, so heavy lifting for him will take a backseat to organizing other volunteers in his crew. Asked why he decided to start the effort, Recce said, in a word: community.

“I’m doing this because it’s my community and I care,” he said. “I understand what’s going on and I will be out there as long as it takes.”

Meanwhile, Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani announced Thursday that the Tunnel to Towers Foundation had raised $1 million to provide relief for those affected by Hurricane Sandy. That’s on top of at least $85 million in donations received by the Red Cross as of Sunday, the Associated Press reported.

Molinaro, who characterized the agency’s response at that stage as an “utter disgrace,” has since softened his tone, commending the organization’s intensified efforts in the area.

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