The fire was reported around 11 p.m. Monday in an area flooded by the superstorm that began sweeping through the city earlier, officials said.
Firefighters told WABC-TV that the water was chest high on the street, and they had to use a boat to make rescues. They said in one apartment home, about 25 people were trapped in an upstairs unit, and the two-story home next door was ablaze and setting fire to the apartment's roof. Firefighters climbed an awning to get to the trapped people and took them downstairs to a boat in the street.
Video footage of the scene shows a hellish swath of tightly packed homes fully engulfed in orange flames as firefighters hauled hoses while sloshing in ankle-high water. Many homes appeared completely flattened by the wind-whipped flames.
The neighborhood sits on the Rockaway peninsula jutting into the Atlantic Ocean.
In September, the beachfront neighborhood was struck by a tornado that hurled debris in the air, knocked out power and startled residents who once thought of twisters as a Midwestern phenomenon.