Brace yourself, here we go again.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Hurricane Irene, an intensifying category III storm with winds exceeding 100 mph, was working her way up the coastline toward the Northeast, with its possible arrival here expected between Sunday and Monday.
It was 20 years ago this month, Monday, August 19, 1991, that Hurricane Bob, a category III storm, came close. The eye of the storm passed east of Montauk, dousing Shelter Island with seven inches of rain, battering it with 72-mph gusts and hitting it with a nine-foot storm surge.
If you weren’t here during Bob, a glance at the photos on the front page of the August 22, 1991 issue of the Reporter tells the story of the hurricane that brushed by just before noon and by the end of the day more than 100 vessels were “high and dry on the beaches,” it was reported.
The Island has not been hit by a hurricane since then.
With Hurricane Irene working its way in this direction, Islanders are springing to action.
Supervisor Jim Dougherty said on Wednesday that both Police Chief Jim Read and Highway Superintendent Mark Ketcham were preparing for the Island to be hit by the storm. “Mark and Jim have a good sense of the winds,” he said, “and they feel it’s headed this way.”
He added that Chief Read had “graciously volunteered” to take his daughters to college earlier than he had originally planned so that he could be back on Shelter Island by Sunday.
Supervisor Dougherty said that Mr. Ketcham had tested all the town’s emergency generators and would stage his work crews so that enough workers would be available throughout the storm.
At Tuesday’s Town Board work session, Councilman Peter Reich said that he had counted 49 small craft such as kayaks and Sunfish on the beach from Wades Beach to Heron Lane, most of them not tied down. If Irene passes east of us, he said, many would be scattered. He suggested people get their boats off the beach or secure them.
Participants of Shelter Island’s Hurricane Coastal Storm Plan met at police headquarters on Monday to discuss the Island’s emergency management plan in the event of a coastal storm, said Chief Read, the town’s emergency management coordinator. Key organizations included in the plan are the police department, Red Cross, ambulance, the Fire Department, Highway, Senior Services, the school, North and South ferry companies, the supervisor, ham radio operators and the town’s animal control officer.
Monday’s meeting “was mainly a recap of what each participant’s role in the plan is,” Chief Read said, adding that the goal for the Island was that, in the event of a storm or emergency, residents here would be prepared and would be capable of “three days of self-reliability.”
The Shelter Island Police Department, at North Ferry Road and Thomas Street, will serve as the town’s emergency operations center. The school is the Island’s designated emergency shelter, with the school district providing the space and the Red Cross providing necessary services, the chief said. Though the school’s new generator won’t be in operation until summer 2012, the chief said the old generator does work and can be put to use.
Using a shelter is a last resort, the chief said. He preferred to keep people in place, with neighbors helping neighbors, he said. Those who cannot stay safely at home or who lack assistance from family and friends may be sheltered at the Senior Activity Center, at the rear and below the Medical Building off Route 114. The other facilities, including the American Legion and Presbyterian Church, are back-up shelters to be used post-storm, if necessary, Chief Read said, not during the storm.
72 HOURS BEFORE
Chief Read said that town senior services personnel maintain a list of frail and elderly residents who have special needs and there is a plan in place to contact them three days before a weather event. Once a storm hits or brushes by North Carolina, there isn’t a lot of time to act, he said. It can be here in 72 hours so plans have to be put into action then.
As for campers staying at Camp Quinipet, Chief Read said his advice was to go home. Camp Quinipet Director Greg Nissen agreed. In the event of a major weather event, “We would send people home,” he said on Tuesday, having already arranged transportation with bus companies. “We would get people out of here.”
Mr. Nissen said the camp keeps enough canned food and water to provide for the people there and the camp has a generator for their water system.
LIPA will most likely have a service crew on the Island. Chief Read said, “LIPA has been great” in the past, having crews here even in pop-up thunderstorms. “They’re very responsive, he said.” However, he said that Islanders need to be prepared to go 72 hours or longer without power.
A single-sheet Hurricane Preparation flyer is available at Shelter Island Town Hall, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides a hurricane preparedness kit (see sidebar). Chief Read suggested that residents can get information from the FEMA website at fema.gov and Channel 12 news. Emergency information will be broadcast on WLNG (92.1 FM) and a town emergency phone line will be in operation at 749-0400 (press 9 and then 1 for emergency updates; this number defaults to the supervisor’s office during normal business hours.) Both land lines and cell phone towers may be knocked out during a hurricane, Chief Read warned.
If it becomes almost certain that the Island will feel the effects of Hurricane Irene, Chief Read said he was confident that the community would be ready to handle it. “We are storm hardened,” he said. “We deal very well with storms.”