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NY homeowners sue power companies for devastating fires during Superstorm Sandy

Massive fires destroyed dozens of homes in the Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens when Superstorm Sandy hit New York on Oct. 29. Shaul Schwarz for NBC News

Lawyers for 120 of the homeowners whose residences went up in flames during Superstorm Sandy sued the utilities in charge on Tuesday for failing to kill the power as rising seawater sparked off the electrical system last October.

About 150 homes in all were destroyed as enormous fires swept through the communities of Breezy Point and Rockaway Beach as Sandy pummeled the East Coast on Oct. 29.

Fire officials determined in January that the fires broke out because the power was still on when rising seawater came in contact with the electrical system.

The suit, which was filed in a Queens, N.Y., court. alleges that the Long Island Power Authority and National Grid USA in New York were negligent in failing to de-energize the power grid before Sandy swept ashore. 

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It doesn't specify damages, but it says the fires caused "mass devastation and loss of homes and personal property," which Keith Sullivan, the homeowners' attorney, estimated at $80 million.

“Had LIPA and National Grid acted responsibly in preparing for the storm my clients would be living in their homes with all of their life’s possessions and these two communities would not look like a war-zone," said Sullivan.

"Electricity and salt water is a deadly combination. We would have thought the power companies knew this already."

A spokesman for LIPA told NBC News that the utility's actions during Sandy "were reasonable and appropriate, and we do not believe the claims have merit."

National Grid told NBC News that it hadn't yet received the lawsuit, but it, too, said its actions last October were appropriate.

The lawsuit comes as many of LIPA's operations are in the process of being taken over by Public Service Enterprise Group, a New Jersey-based private utility, under an agreement reached last month between state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said "LIPA's failure during Superstorm Sandy was a wakeup call for action."

PSEG told NBC News it wasn't familiar with the suit and couldn't comment.

Related:

Then and now: Breezy Point six months after Sandy