Montaukers are not prone to looking a gift horse in the mouth, the horse in question this time being Hurricane turned Tropical Storm Irene. The gift early Monday morning took the form of hundreds of surf clams dredged from the bottom offshore by Irene’s huge swells, dragged ashore by her violent storm surge, and left broken on the shore just east of Ditch Plain.
People who had come down to gauge the extent of Irene’s wrath included fishermen who saw the broken clams as a serendipitous supply of bait for sea bass and, later in the season, cod.
There was general agreement that Montauk, in fact, all of East Hampton, had dodged a bullet. East Hampton Town received only two inches of rain, and although winds gusted over 70 miles per hour at times, they came from the south during the height of the storm, west as the storm passed. The southerly direction of the wind and ocean swell were indeed a blessing. Had the wind blown from the southeast, as so often happens during northeasters, the erosion would have been far worse.
As it was, Ditch Plain lost most of its remaining dunes. The vulnerable “motel row” in Montauk’s downtown business district was spared even though the storm surge entered through the road ends. Again, the direct approach of wind and surf precluded east-to-west, or west-to-east erosion.
At the height of the storm, the ocean flowed into the Ditch Plain community through the town parking lot at the East Deck Motel. The front row of trailer homes at the Montauk Shores Condominium complex received some flooding, but its stone revetment was not overtopped, though it had only a few feet to spare. Had there been more rain, the flooding might have been extreme.
Montauk’s commercial fishing fleet was also spared the fierce north wind and accompanying tidal surge that so often occurs when a retreating hurricane’s counter-clockwise rotation aims its full force through the harbor mouth.
It was clear from the preparations that citizens and officials alike took Irene seriously. Shops were boarded up but many remained open on Saturday and even Sunday during the storm. The Montauk I.G.A. kept its doors open despite the billows of ocean spray that flew over the dunes to greet shoppers.
Reached Monday morning, East Hampton Town Councilwoman Teresa Quigley said that whether the town had dodged a bullet was “a function of perspective,” but, in general, she said “unofficially” that it could have been worse. “Nobody died or were harmed that I know of except for losing electric.”
“I drove all over town on Sunday. There were big trees down all over. It looks like the highway department did an incredible job. I think they must have worked all night clearing trees,” Ms. Quigley said.
If missing a really good surf session can be considered an injury, then dozens of disappointed surfers were injured on the afternoon before the storm when Montauk Point State Park was closed, cutting them off from excellent waves at Turtle Cove and off the Lighthouse itself.