People on the South Fork were consumed last week with preparations for Hurricane Sandy and this week with its aftermath, even while breathing a sigh of relief that the storm did not deliver its full impact here.
Winds toppled trees and downed power lines, and coastal flooding reached apparently unprecedented levels even before Sandy made landfall on Monday afternoon, knocking out power to much of the area.
According to data from the National Weather Service station at Upton, sustained winds were recorded at 79 miles per hour. Gusts of up to 85 miles per hour were recorded at Plum Island, and at Islip, gusts reached 90 miles per hour.
“Town emergency personnel are surveying the damage, both for immediate assistance and for financial reimbursement,” East Hampton Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione said Tuesday. With the storm-battered areas of the Northeast, including East Hampton, declared disaster areas, the town and its residents should be eligible for federal emergency aid.
Long Island Power Authority crews continued to assess damage and set priorities for repairs yesterday.
East Hampton Town Hall, closed due to a lack of power early in the week, reopened yesterday. An East Hampton Town Board meeting, to include a hearing on the town’s 2013 budget, will take place as scheduled tonight at 7 at Town Hall.
Before the brunt of the storm arrived, the Red Cross opened a shelter at East Hampton High School. One hundred eighty-seven people rode out the storm there, and 80 remained as of Tuesday night, primarily because their residences were without power. Bruce Bates, the town’s emergency preparedness coordinator, said Tuesday that he expected the shelter operation would be “winding down,” but that the Red Cross would decide if and when to close it, perhaps sending those still in need of sanctuary to the next-closest shelter, in Hampton Bays.
Staff from the town’s Human Services Department lent a hand at the shelter and provided meals, with food donated by Waldbaum’s. Ten senior citizens, whose names are on a list maintained by the department of those in need of assistance during an event such as a hurricane, were transported by the town to the shelter in advance of the storm. Most were headed home on Tuesday, after personnel ascertained the safety of their residences. The East Hampton Senior Citizens Center on Springs-Fireplace Road was expected to reopen yesterday.
The town’s ordinance enforcement officers and fire marshals were posted before and after the storm on roads leading to Amagansett beaches at Atlantic Avenue, Indian Wells Highway, and Napeague Lane, Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said, to prevent people from going onto the beaches, where dangerous surf conditions prevailed.
Throughout the day on Monday, before the full force of the storm hit, and afterward, town Highway Department crews worked to clear fallen trees and branches, keeping roads passable and paving the way for power company repair crews who need lines clear in order to restore power to neighborhoods and houses.
Downed wires tangled in fallen tree limbs posed a problem for the department beginning early on Monday, said Highway Superintendent Steve Lynch. “We can’t touch trees with wires on them,” he said.
Downed wires tangled in fallen tree limbs posed a problem for the department beginning early on Monday.
Under a new protocol developed after Tropical Storm Irene, and designed to improve LIPA’s response to electrical outages, municipal emergency operations centers compiled information about fallen wires and dispatched an assigned LIPA crew, together with local Highway Department crews, to locations according to their priority.
The system “seem[ed] to be working very well,” Mr. Bates said Tuesday. For the first time, he said, East Hampton Village and Town operated the emergency response center jointly, at the Emergency Services Building on Cedar Street.
“Last night we opened everything we could,” Mr. Lynch said on Tuesday afternoon. “By the end of today, we should have all roads open,” where downed trees were involved.
With high tides, wild waves, and the storm surge, the Highway Department was challenged to keep roads passable, especially in areas where they were washed over or undercut from below by wave action and erosion.
Mr. Lynch said the ocean breached the dunes along the Napeague stretch between 5 and 6 on Monday evening, with water several feet deep on the roadway within a couple of hours, cutting Montauk off from the rest of the town and Long Island.
“With a bulldozer and lots of sand,” Highway Department workers toiled until midnight to get the hole closed up and the water held back. “We caught it in time before the road washed out,” Mr. Lynch said.
The causeway leading to Star Island in Montauk was undermined and washed out, but Mr. Lynch said repairs could be completed by Tuesday night.
Gardiner’s Bay broke through low dunes at Louse Point to meet Accabonac Harbor, filling the road with sand and debris. It was cleared off on Tuesday morning.
Although Fire Department personnel knocked on doors, pre-Sandy, along low-lying stretches that were expected to flood on Louse Point Road and Gerard Drive in Springs, to inform residents of voluntary evacuation orders, three people remained on Gerard and were marooned there.
Gerard Drive “was closed off and flooded from Springs-Fireplace Road all the way down,” Mr. Lynch said. At the two causeways on that road, water completely washed out the road. A contractor was on site Tuesday, working to rebuild those areas. “We hope, within two days, to have it passable,” Mr. Lynch said that afternoon. Meanwhile, after the majority of the road was cleared, the residents were able to get off the Gerard Park isthmus, albeit on foot.
Before the storm, the Highway Department piled sand in front of unprotected sea-level beachfront openings, an effort that paid off, Mr. Lynch said. Sand at the end of Napeague Lane, for instance, protected the Beach Hampton neighborhood from flooding. “It worked. It never broke through there,” he said. In Montauk, a sand barrier near the East Deck motel lasted until the second high tide.
Ed Michels, the chief of East Hampton Town’s Marine Patrol, said that water at the head of Three Mile Harbor rose higher than he’d ever seen it. To protect his agency’s boats, he said, he tied them on Monday afternoon to three 47-foot Coast Guard cutters that were secured at the town commercial dock at Gann Road.
“This was probably one of the worst storms I can remember, and I’ve lived here all my life,” Mr. Lynch said, echoing similar opinions held by Mr. Bates and Mr. Michels. He praised the coordinated efforts made by all the municipal agencies and personnel, and the town’s emergency operations center. “All my guys are working hard, and they’re doing a great job,” the Highway Superintendent said. “The town is working as a team.” Mr. Lynch said he had worked closely throughout the storm with Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, whose efforts he also applauded.
Mr. Wilkinson was spotted at daybreak Tuesday stepping out of his S.U.V. as he assessed the damage to West Lake and Soundview Drives and the surrounding neighborhoods. The dunes on the Sound side of Montauk had taken a ferocious pounding the night before, with rocks and boulders strewn across West Lake Drive and the parking lot by Gosman’s.
A man needed a boat to check on his bigger boat at Northwest Creek, whose waters were driven well up Northwest Landing Road by the storm surge.
“We dodged a bullet,” said the supervisor. “When the winds came out of the south-southeast instead of coming purely out of the east, it started flattening a lot of the things here on the north side, and that prevented many of these homes from being destroyed. The breach in Napeague was serious. We jumped on that right away. The breach in Montauk, down by Nick’s, was understandable because we stacked up the other beaches and dropped sand, we prevented a lot of damage there. The town went through its drills this year, and got a big jump-start. It could have been far worse. Look at New York City.”
He shook his head, got back into his vehicle, and drove off to inspect the Star Island Causeway, which had barely survived its battering.
A full Highway Department staff was on duty until 10 p.m. on Monday night, through the worst of the storm, and afterward. Mr. Lynch said he also stationed heavy-equipment operators, with payloaders, at the Springs, Montauk, and Amagansett firehouses, in case they were needed.
At East Hampton Airport, traffic controllers were evacuated on Monday from their post in a modular building, and a “notice to airmen” was issued to inform aviators that they were not present.
The seasonal control tower was set to be shut down for the winter yesterday, but with no power flowing to it, it was closed for the season a bit early, Jim Brundige, the airport manager, said.
Most planes had been removed from the airport before the storm, Mr. Brundige said, but four aircraft that were tied at the east side of the ramp weathered the storm just fine. The runway was clear of debris, Mr. Brundige said Tuesday, and the terminal was up and running, with electricity but no Internet service. Air traffic was practically nonexistent, Mr. Brundige said, although a News12 helicopter did land to report on the effects of the storm.
According to the East Hampton Town Web site, fees normally charged for dumping truckloads of brush at the town recycling centers will be waived through Sunday.
With reporting by T.E. McMorrow