Shelters and Advice as State of Emergency Declared

Police Chief urged residents not to call 911 unless absolutely necessary

East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson declared a state of emergency at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, giving additional powers to the police, as the town's emergency preparedness team went into full gear and fire department volunteers visited low-lying areas to inform residents of voluntary evacuation.

Declaring mandatory evacuations, Mr. Wilkinson said, would have little effect except to underscore the depth of concern, since there is no penalty for ignoring a mandatory evacuation order. On Friday night, Mr. Wilkinson said, some residents of flood zones, as defined by the Army Corps of Engineers had been called through a county "Reverse 911" system, and told that voluntary evacuation was in place.

Additional police powers include the right to cordon off streets and to remove vehicles on public streets that are deemed a hazard. Town Police Chief Edward V. Ecker said beaches had been closed as of Saturday morning, with marine patrol, traffic control officers, and town lifeguards, monitoring them. Traffic was being turned away well north of ocean beach road ends.

"People have taken heed of this. There seems to be a lot less people around, on the roads and in the low-lying areas," Chief Ecker noted.

"We can't stress enough how dangerous the ocean is going to be in the next few days, especially tomorrow," Capt. Mike Tracey of the East Hampton Village Police said. "The surf conditions are going to be higher than we've seen in years. Stay away from it."

By morning, two shelters had been opened, one at East Hampton High School, staffed by the Red Cross; the other at the Montauk Playhouse, staffed by the Montauk Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary.

Bruce Bates, the town's emergency preparedness coordinator, said that anyone planning to ride out the storm in a shelter should get there before nightfall tonight. He recommended those checking into the shelters bring "everything that will make [them] comfortable," such as a pillow, blankets, books, snacks, and games.

"You will be provided with very basic meals and water," he said.

Medications sufficient for several days should be taken along, as well as vital documents, such as insurance information, by anyone fearing their houses will be damaged.

Officials noted that once residents check into a shelter, they will not be able to leave until released after the storm by a shelter manager.

The East Hampton Town senior citizens center on Springs-Fireplace Road in East Hampton, which has a generator, is to accommodate "special needs" residents who, for example, rely on electric-powered medical equipment, Diane Patrizio, the head of the town's Human Services Department, reported. Mary Bromley, an East Hampton therapist, has offered mental health counseling, if needed.

Ms. Patrizio said that those on a special needs list maintained by the department had been contacted, with offers of help, and that the list had been provided to the fire departments and hospitals.  In addition, the department has a list of people remaining at home that it will check on, by phone, during the storm. The Human Services Department can be reached at 324-6711.

Those with pets who plan to go to the East Hampton shelter may be able to have their pets taken in at a town-sponsored shelter at the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons in Wainscott. A separate area for pets - in cages -- was set up at the Montauk Playhouse, but, Betsy Bambrick, the head of animal control, said there would "not be the availability to go in and play with them. We're just giving them shelter so they are safe."

Ms. Bambrick reported that a town animal control officer would be on hand through the night at each pet shelter. Pet owners should provide food and familiar items, as well as litter for cats, and make sure the animal has identification.

Ms. Bambrick urged those seeking shelter for pets to leave a message this afternoon at the animal control office, at 324-0085, as spaces for pets are limited. Animal hospitals that normally board animals are already filled up, Ms. Bambrick said.

Mr. Bates said an emergency operations command center would be open Saturday afternoon at the communications building behind East Hampton Town Hall. Town and Village police and emergency responders are working closely together, Chief Ecker said, and will coordinate responses to calls about downed trees, electrical wires, or the like.

Emergency workers will be called off the road when the hurricane hits, he said, and calls for help will be handled on a triaged, "call-by-call basis." Ambulance personnel are not required to put their own lives on the line to respond during a severe storm, he said, but "they tend to break that rule," often putting their own safety at risk.

However, Chief Ecker and others urged residents not to call 911 unless absolutely necessary. "Please don't call 911 for general informational inquiries," he said.

As in the past, announcements will be carried by the radio station WLNG (92.1) and on LTV's local government cable channels, 20 and 22.

Thinking ahead to post-storm repairs, Mr. Wilkinson said he had already contacted the State Department of Environmental Conservation about issuing emergency permits and that the agency had been responsive.

Mr. Wilkinson reported that the Long Island Power Authority expects to have "close to 2,000 people out here, starting Monday, if necessary" to restore power. The utility will use a closed runway at the East Hampton Airport as a staging area. Downed power lines should be reported at once, but left alone, Chief Ecker said.

Should prolonged power outages cause water shortages, the Suffolk Water Authority will bring its "water buffalo" to the Emergency Services Building on Cedar Street in the village where residents in need can bring containers to fill up.

Diane McNally, an East Hampton Town Trustee, said that the trustees, whose jurisdiction includes most of the town's beaches, "are holding our breath, and waiting to see what happens afterward." As for emergency work that might be required on the shorefront, Ms. McNally said, "We have trustee and town guidelines. If we follow those guidelines as we rebuild, we will be rebuilding responsibly."

The trustees will not open Georgica Pond to the ocean before the storm, though "I would not be surprised if Mother Nature opens it herself," she said. Whether to open the pond after the storm will be decided when Irene has passed, she said.

"What overrides all is, act like a good neighbor," Supervisor Wilkinson said. "Because that's what a community is all about."