Breathing Easier In Wake of Storm

Scramble to clean up in time for Labor Day
Downed tree on Mill Hill Lane
As Irene blew through on Sunday, East Hampton Village lost a number of large old trees, including these on Mill Hill Lane. John Musnicki

    The air in East Hampton was redolent this week of freshly cut green wood and exhaust from generators as residents began cleaning up limbs brought down by last weekend’s storm in the face of power outages that persist in some parts of the town.
    Although Hurricane Irene had been downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it hit Long Island on Sunday, almost everyone here, instead of soaking up summer’s last rays, has been grappling with its aftermath during the week before Labor Day.
    For some, the first order on Monday was dealing with toppled trees or property damage. Business owners were striving to get back in gear for the final weekend of the season, and even the lucky homeowners who did not lose power or experience much damage have been hosting friends and family without running water who come over for a shower.
    With its power on, the East Hampton Library has been chock-full since Monday, with people plugging in their cellphones and laptops, filling virtually every seat at tables and in lounges, and in the library’s nooks and crannies.
    On Monday morning, when many businesses had not yet reopened, a long line of the coffee-deprived spilled out of Starbucks on East Hampton’s Main Street and snaked down the sidewalk.
    As of early Tuesday the Long IslandPower Authority had restored power to about half of the 7,000 customers in East Hampton that lost it during the storm, Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said that afternoon. Islandwide, 90 percent of outages are expected to be repaired by tomorrow evening, LIPA officials said Tuesday. The utility’s progress is reported separately in this issue.
    With the lights still out at a number of intersections, stop signs have been hastily erected, on posts propped up by sandbags, to warn motorists of crossing traffic.
    For those in need of water, the Suffolk County Water Authority has set up its “water buffalo” tank in the parking lot at the Village Emergency Services Building on Cedar Street, where thermoses and jugs can be filled at no charge.
    Ocean beaches were closed off during and after the storm while dangerous surf persisted, with traffic control officers turning drivers away well upland of road-ends. The beaches have since reopened, though not necessarily for swimming. Lifeguards have posted warning flags at the town beaches, and at the Amagansett Firehouse and the Montauk green, indicating surf conditions.
    The last two roads closed because of downed trees or limbs, Sayre’s Path in Wainscott and Osborne Lane, were being cleared yesterday morning, East Hampton Town Highway Superintendent Scott King reported. The department’s efforts had gone well, he said, particularly after he met with a LIPA official to personally hand over a list of sites where wires had come down. After those were safely dealt with, town employees cleared away debris. Mr. King said his entire staff, as well as staff from the town’s Parks and Recreation and Sanitation Departments, had pitched in, so that few outside contractors were needed. “The guys stepped up to the plate and got the job done,” he said.
    Some Highway Department workers, Mr. King said, were at work even during the storm, at about 10:30 Sunday morning, using payloaders to push aside toppled trees that were blocking roads. They had been told not to get out of their vehicles, for their own safety.
    Hardest hit in terms of wind damage to trees were areas south or just north of Montauk Highway from Amagansett to Wainscott.
    The Highway Department will be chipping and picking up limbs along the roadsides through Monday. Residents can take other storm debris to the town recycling center on Springs-Fireplace Road in East Hampton, or to a special collection point at Eddie V. Ecker Park at Navy Road in Montauk, through Sunday.
    In an announcement on radio station WLNG on Tuesday morning, Mr. Wilkinson thanked town officials and employees for their efforts in preparing for and responding to the storm.
    An emergency operations command center opened on Saturday afternoon, and emergency responders, led by the town’s preparedness coordinator, Bruce Bates, worked in concert with town and village officials and police.
    Mr. Wilkinson said by phone this week that a voluntary evacuation advisory on Friday, urging people who had decided to leave town to do so immediately, and the cooperation of hotel and motel owners in advising their guests, had helped minimize risks. “We literally had no injuries up to today,” he said on Tuesday.
    The supervisor declared a state of emergency as of 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, giving the police additional powers, such as the ability to cordon off streets and to remove vehicles deemed a hazard.
    Two emergency evacuation shelters were opened that morning. About 160 people rode out the storm at East Hampton High School, staffed by the Red Cross, and 62 went to the Montauk Playhouse, which was staffed by the Montauk Fire Department’s Ladies Auxiliary.
    Pets, in carriers, were to be accommodated in an animal-only section of the Playhouse, though no pet owners availed themselves of that option. The Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, another storm shelter, took in two dogs from Montauk and two cats from East Hampton, without their owners, as well as two strays brought in by concerned animal lovers. 
    On Friday night, East Hampton residents living in places designated by the Army Corps of Engineers as flood zones were called through a county “Reverse 911” system and told of the voluntary evacuation plan in place. On Saturday morning members of the town’s volunteer fire departments visited residents of low-lying areas to inform them that a voluntary evacuation had been declared. Those opting to go to a shelter were urged to do so before nightfall.
    A shelter at the town senior citizens center on Springs-Fireplace Road in East Hampton, for the elderly or those with special medical needs, set up by the town’s Human Services Department, accommodated six people during the storm. “The staff at Human Services just went around the clock, and did an incredible job of feeding, caring for, and protecting” those people, Councilman Dominick Stanzione said Tuesday.
    Mr. Wilkinson said that starting about 2 a.m. on Sunday, he had “worked right through the storm” coordinating with shelter managers, police, the Highway Department, and LIPA. “And then it came down to cleanup, and making sure the weekend is going to open to its glory,” he said.
    He said the cost of Irene had yet to be tallied, but that there would be overtime pay for many town employees. “We didn’t want to scrimp on safety or restoring the town to its glory for Labor Day weekend,” he said.
    Here in East Hampton for the storm were President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who attended a show at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett Monday night despite intermittent power outages.
    Peter Honerkamp, an owner of the club, speculated yesterday that the Secret Service agents accompanying the Clintons were perhaps nonplused when fire alarms were activated as the grid came back on line, and again when, during the performance, the entire room went black when the main power shut off again, before the club’s generator kicked in.
    Trombone Shorty, one performer scheduled for that night, a victim of Hurricane Katrina, declined to come to New York at all after his weekend shows in the city were canceled, but a second, Ilo Ferreira, a protégé of Jimmy Buffett from Cape Verde, went on. Mr. Buffett opened the show, playing for about an hour, Mr. Honerkamp said. The Clintons, he said, were “very gracious.”