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April 26, 2013
Assessing the damage after Sandy slams Shelter Island
Sandy’s all-day visit Monday was rough and the aftershocks lingered much too long, leaving many Islanders without power, but it all could have been so much worse.
Winds from the huge and long-lived hurricane began building here Sunday even though it was hundreds of miles away off Cape Hatteras. As the storm moved north then west toward the New Jersey shore, its far-reaching winds reached a steady 50 mph with occasional gusts of 70 mph and more.
The big storm story was the surge driven by the storm’s huge wind field. It pushed water into Long Island Sound and the Peconic Bay system on the day of full-moon tides, breaking through to Coecles Harbor above and across Reel Point, flooding the Ram Island Causeways and Bridge Street as well as many other low-lying areas — but at last report with little serious damage.
Old-timers said they have never seen tides so high here.
Cliff Clark, president of South Ferry, said Sandy was truly historic. The storm surge and high tides haven’t been so high since Hurricane Carol struck in 1954, he said. What made this tangle with a hurricane even more perilous was the duration of Sandy, with a time frame of three high tides.
Bridg Hunt, general manager of North Ferry, also said he’d never seen anything like Sandy. Because of weather conditions and deep flooding at the loading ramps, the ferry was forced to close for 15 hours.
With the parking lots transformed to lakes, several people were taking bets on which of the two cars partially submerged would float away first. Mr. Hunt said Sandy swept no cars into the bay, but he did recall a car in a 1991 storm becoming seaworthy.
Flooding became part of the Island landscape in all sections, due more to the storm surge coupled with especially high tides rather than rain. Bridge Street was underwater for hours on Monday when the harbor breached the roadway.
Piccozzi’s Gas Station was knocked out of commission and two large ice chests floated away, pinballing up Bridge Street. Williette Piccozzi said there was 2 feet of water inside the station and no one could remember water that high. The gas station was back in service by midday Wednesday with one diesel pump and one premium gasoline pump. Full-service was expected Thursday.
In the midst of a dramatic off-Island evacuation via South Ferry at the storm’s peak (see sidebar, page 5), fire department personnel described winds funneling wickedly through the channel at 90 mph.
WE GOT LUCKY
Even with the helacious winds bringing down trees and branches blocking streets and knocking out power, and three full-moon tides, several Islanders summed up the situation during postmortems Tuesday by simply saying, “We got lucky.”
Lives were disrupted but no one was seriously injured and no lives lost. Even the Halloween parade survived the so-called Frankenstorm; canceled for Wednesday, it was rescheduled for 4 p.m. Friday.
Police Chief Jim Read, who is also the town’s emergency preparedness coordinator, said his department responded to 52 calls, mostly of down trees and wires and severe flooding. In one incident a tree fell on a car, and in two cases trees struck houses. Two other calls resulted in residents escorted safely to the Senior Activity Center, where 18 people spent Monday night, according to the center’s Assistant Director Dana Hallman.
“It wasn’t just seniors,” Ms. Hallman said, but those weathering the storm were from different generations.
Power went out all across the Island in the early afternoon. Although numbers still remained fluid at press time, Long Island Power Authority estimated there were 957 customers without power on the Island a day later when electricity began to light up the Center. The seemingly low number of outages was due to many summer residents gone for the season. In August 2011, when Tropical Storm Irene hit the Island, about 2,000 LIPA customers lost power.
According to Fire Chief John D’Amato, it was reported at the town’s Emergency Operations Committee meeting early Wednesday that about half the Island had power restored but sporadic outages flickered through the morning. He said an “exit feeder,” or transformer, that channels power to the Island at Crescent Beach burned out because of overloaded wires about 6:30 a.m.
On Wednesday at 3 p.m., he reported that LIPA had re-established two main feeder lines from the North Fork to Shelter Island and that the on-again, off-again power situation should stabilize to always on in those areas with power. LIPA was about to restore service to the Silver Beach area Wednesday afternoon.
HIGHWAY CREWS HIT ROADS
Three LIPA emergency maintenance vehicles with crews had taken South Ferry to the Island at 8:30 a.m. Monday, prepared to stay and work through the duration and aftermath of the storm. Coordinating with the LIPA crews, Highway Superintendent Jay Card said his team of about 15 workers were on the streets all day Monday until 11 p.m., clearing trees and wires and making streets and roads passable. The highway crews were back on the job Tuesday morning by 6 a.m., Superintendent Card said.
Winds began abating here late Monday afternoon despite National Weather Service forecasts for high winds occasionally to hurricane force through Tuesday, which dawned partly cloudy and not even breezy.
While the loss of power knocked out communications via many landlines and Internet, cell phone service was available. They had to be used sparingly, though, to save battery power. The town’s Medical Center was open for people to recharge cell phones and get fresh water but, even though that information was available on the town’s website, many seemed unaware of the resource.
Another dramatic sight was the head of the Silver Beach lagoon pouring over the bulkheads and onto Brander Parkway at the height of the storm.
Superintendent Card reported several flooded areas, with the fire department pumping out an area along Westmoreland Drive on Tuesday, only to have it refilled at the first high tide. Pumping was slated to continue in the stubborn area on Wednesday.
Water levels generally across the Island had receded by Tuesday midday, and while there were large puddles in some areas, most roads were passable.
ALL’S WELL THAT …
Cliff Clark summed up for everyone who was out and working during the worst of the hurricane: “We were very fortunate we didn’t get hit like the Jersey Shore,” where Sandy made landfall Monday at about 5 p.m.
But there was also the advantage of learning from experience. Chief D’Amato said that all town agencies coordinated flawlessly because they had worked the same drill 15 months ago when Tropical Storm Irene came ashore.
“Every event you learn to get better,” he said. “We did a good job with Irene, but a better one this time.”
Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty said Wednesday Irene was “a wonderful dress rehearsal” for Sandy’s theatrics. He added he was proud of all Islanders for weathering the storm, and congratulated all town departments for working diligently to keep residents safe.
LEGION, LIBRARY, SCHOOL
League bowling at the American Legion Hall was suspended through today, Thursday, because of the storm, Post Commander Mike Loriz announced on Wednesday. Bowling is expected to resume tomorrow, Friday, November 2.
The Shelter Island Public Library is open for business later than usual with power, Internet and phones, Director Denise DiPaolo announced on Wednesday. “Many residents on the Island are still without utilities, so we are staying open later than our regularly scheduled hours. We will not close at 5 p.m. but rather stay open until 7 p.m.,” she wrote in an email.