We had spent two days preparing for the storm — getting the lobster house ready for a hurricane is not easy, especially when there is furniture outside on the Lobster Deck.
Everything we could move out of the lobster house got moved, or relocated to a higher position. I remember thinking that we were being overly cautious, that there was no way water would reach a platform scale four feet above the floor in the retail room, which itself is two feet higher than the lobster house floor — six feet in all. Time and events would prove me wrong.
Monday, Oct. 29, was spent in final preparations, along with running the emergency generators at the lobster house and at my house. The Monday morning tide ran high, with about a foot of water in the lobster house, but by that time we had braced the door leading to the dock with four-by-fours, and the wind was out of the east, putting us in the lee. At about noon on Monday, two big party boats came into Fort Pond to ride out the storm — not a good sign.
Monday afternoon the tide never really receded, and at about 4 p.m. the bay breached our sea wall just south of the ice freezers. I was not overly alarmed because this had happened during Hurricane Bob, but I was concerned that the bay was still full of water.
As evening approached I ran home to grab a bite to eat, and then returned to the lobster house. By this time, Tuthill Road was flooded all the way down to the cottages at the south end, and the wind was really blowing from the northeast. There was considerable water in the lobster house, and the sea continued to come in south of the freezers. I put on my waders, figuring that by high tide at 9 p.m., knee boots would be useless.
Within one hour, things got really bad. Apart from the strong wind, I heard a prolonged whooshing sound, and a wall of water suddenly surged around the south end of the buildings like a river. I wanted to watch the meter pan for the main electrical feed coming into the business, because if the water got that high, the pan would short out and we would lose all power.
Yet with every passing minute the swirling water was rising faster around me, and at one point I felt as if I was going to be swept off the parking lot and into the pond.
By 8 p.m. the situation was critical — I could no longer walk to the south end of the building where the meter pan was, and there was so much water in the lobster house that I could not open the door to get in. The next day, Aida said that the water was over the toilets in the kitchen, a full five to seven feet above normal high tides. I could hear the dock and outer Deck groaning under the force of the surge, but there was no way I could get close enough to take a look.
At roughly 8:30 p.m. I decided I had to cut the power coming into the business — the water was rising so high that I feared an electrical fire from shorted wires and outlets. I put the main feed switch in the utility room in neutral, and everything went dark.
I decided I could do no more, and before leaving I walked along the raised porch in front of the shops to look at the meter pan one last time. All I could see under me was black, angry water, and I was shocked to see that the sea had now risen higher than the concrete loading dock. When that loading dock was poured, the mason doing the job asked my dad how high to make it — and my dad said, “Pour it to the high-water mark of the Hurricane of 1938.” Sandy had exceeded that mark before 9 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2012, and water was still coming.
As I write this early in the morning of Oct. 31, 2012, the whooshing sound of that surge and the pull of the water against my body keep repeating themselves in my mind. We have entered new territory in terms of destruction by the sea, and I can only speculate what would have happened if the wind had come northwest the night of Oct. 29. In all probability, the buildings that have stood here since 1915 would have washed away.
Perry Duryea III runs the Perry B. Duryea and Son wholesale seafood business and restaurant in Montauk.