ActivePaper Archive Sandy Pummels South Shore - Southampton Press - Western Edition, 11/1/2012

Sandy Pummels South Shore

Ocean breaches Dune Road in several spots


East Quogue Marine Park on Monday afternoon. DANA SHAW


Hurricane Sandy claimed the life of a Montauk woman on Monday evening in East Hampton Village, destroyed an oceanfront home in Wainscott, decimated dozens of miles of ocean beaches, and left more than 65,000 South Fork homes and businesses without power for what will likely be many days, perhaps weeks.

The hybrid hurricanenor’easter, now officially being called “Superstorm Sandy” by the National Weather Service, lashed the East End with winds as high as 90 mph, battered beaches, dunes and structures with towering, wind-driven waves and flooded low-lying areas with its storm surge. Nearly 600 people sought refuge at Red Cross shelters at the East Hampton and Hampton Bays high schools on Monday night.

The storm’s lone local fatality came when a woman who was last seen walking her dog near the ocean at the height of the storm was apparently swept into the sea. Her body was found Tuesday morning at Georgica Beach, more than 15 miles away. East Hampton Village Police on Wednesday identified her as Edith “Dee” Wright, 52, of Montauk.

Despite the effects, Sandy delivered only a glancing blow locally, as the South Fork was spared much of the storm’s fury. Sections of New Jersey, New York City and Nassau County were hit with stronger winds and heavier rains, for much longer periods, and were swamped by far higher storm surges.

“Everyone is saying they survived, that we dodged a bullet and that there was damage but nothing that can’t be repaired,” East Hampton Town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said on Tuesday, as the region began assessing the impacts of the storm. “They’re just happy that we didn’t get the brunt of the storm that other communities got.”

The storm’s impacts on the South Fork were tempered because, as it approached the tri-state area, the hurricane accelerated in speed, roaring ashore in southern New Jersey at more than 30 mph. Because it came in so quickly, the worst winds battered the South Fork for only about two hours, between 4 and 6 p.m. on Mondaynot the 12 to 24 hours of high winds that had been predicted earlier in the week when it was expected the storm would stall as it reached land and merged with two other weather systems to its west and north.

And the relatively low rainfall amounts, less than an inch on most of the South Fork, meant that fewer trees were uprooted than if the ground had been softened by rain. East Hampton and Southampton towns saw fewer than half of their homes and businesses lose power, while on other parts of the island, more than 90 percent did. Islandwide, 85 percent of homes and businesses were still in the dark on Wednesday, according to the Long Island Power Authority.

Sandy’s early arrival also softened the blow, somewhat, to beaches and shorelines, because the storm’s highest surge of water into the South Fork’s shores and harbors came at around low tide, rather than at high tide as had originally been predicted.

The storm surge pushed tides here about 4 feet above what they would have been otherwise. New York City and parts of New Jersey and Connecticut, in contrast, saw unprecedented storm surge levels of 14 feet, inundating many neighborhoods, destroying hundreds of structures and filling the city’s subway tunnels with saltwater. The storm surge’s crest, locally at around 3 p.m., coincided with what would have been the lower third of the tide cycle on the ocean beaches.

Nonetheless, Monday morning’s high tide sent the waters of Shelter Island Sound flooding into downtown Sag Harbor, inundating Bay Street, Long Wharf and Long Island Avenue and submerging the docks at local marinas. The evening high tide caused Mecox Bay to flood over Montauk Highway in Water Mill, closing the road for most of Monday night. Much of the lowlying downtown business district in Montauk remained flooded on Tuesday. The rising ocean and bays flooded over much of Dune Road in Hampton Bays and East Quogue; the road remained closed on Wednesday. Quogue Mayor Peter Sartorius said the ocean waves breached the dunes and washed onto Dune Road in two places in the village. Several houses sustained significant damage, he said.

“Dune Road got hit pretty badly,” the mayor said. “There are a bunch of houses on the east end [of the village] that sustained damage. It was way worse for the beaches than other storms and Irene.”

According to Southampton Town Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor, the ocean breached the dunes and washed across Dune Road in at least two places in Hampton Bays, with sea water flowing into Shinnecock Bay, cutting off access to the commercial fishing docks and restaurants near Shinnecock Inlet.

Doug Oakland, the owner of two marinas and restaurants at the inlet, said the portion of Dune Road east of the Ponquogue Bridge is covered by between 6 and 8 feet of sand where the ocean breached the artificial dune. But Mr. Oakland noted that his and other buildings adjacent to the inlet seem to have weathered the storm.

“It’s a bit of a mess—there’s a quarter mile with no dune left at all, completely flattened,” Mr. Oakland said. “But, overall, the buildings are sound, the power lines are up. We’ve been through this many times here. It’s the same old thing—we have to push the sand back onto the beach and clear the road, and we’ll hope the roadway is intact underneath.”

Fire engulfed a structure on Dune Road in East Quogue during the storm, but firefighters could not reach it because of the breaches. The fire was in the vicinity of Neptune’s nightclub, officials said, though whether the blaze was at the club or at a nearby house was still unclear as of Wednesday morning.

“If I was going to look for the silver lining, it would be that we’re not the Jersey Shore and we’re not Lower Manhattan,” State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said. “That said, there’s an awful lot of damage out there. The coastline took a beating. There’s a lot of concern about LIPA and how long that is going to take. But from what I’ve seen, I’ve got to give a lot of credit to local towns and villages for their preparations and response so far. They’ve done an outstanding job dealing with this.”

Mr. Gregor said the town’s priority on Tuesday was to get the major thoroughfares cleared of trees and debris, which was largely accomplished early in the day. On Wednesday, the Highway Department began clearing secondary roads of fallen trees. The town secured two LIPA crews to travel with the Highway Department crews to clear power lines from blocked roadways.

Mr. Gregor said the most heavily impacted area in the eastern portion of the town appears to be in the Pine Neck region of Noyac, where the storm surge pushed hundreds of feet inland from the bay, causing massive flooding and felling many trees. Beaches in most areas were mostly or entirely erased by the ocean as onshore winds pushed the surf right to the dune line.

Even though the storm surge was not as extreme as in some other areas, the elevated water levels inundated most coastal regions. “From a flooding standpoint, anything that was within 1,000 feet of the water, whether it was a bay or the ocean, had flooding damage,” Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley said.

Mr. Epley said about 80 percent of the village lost electricity, and when he last made contact with Southampton Hospital, officials there were on emergency backup power. He added that the hospital took in those people who require 24-hour medical assistance but were unable to stay at home during the storm. “They were pretty full [Monday night], and the ER stayed operational through the night,” he added. “They were fully staffed.”

The Southampton Fire Department, meanwhile, responded to about 50 calls during the height of the storm. Chief Rodney Pierson said firefighters extinguished a basement fire in about 4 feet of flood water at a home on Inlet Road West on Monday afternoon.

The marine science laboratories at Stony Brook University’s Southampton campus in Shinnecock Hills flooded with several feet of water.

The small village of West Hampton Dunes, located on the very western end of Dune Road, has survived the storm better than expected, Mayor Gary Vegliante said on Tuesday morning. According to Mr. Vegliante, the ocean did not breach the dunes in the village, and every house is structurally sound. He also noted that none of the homes sustained significant damage, though there is plenty of minor damage.

“It is really a testament to the Army Corps of Engineers-designed beach,” Mr. Vegliante said. “It is really a wonderful thing to see how well that project worked. The houses have sustained during the greatest storm we have seen in living memory.”

In East Hampton, the worst effects of the storm seem to have been felt in Montauk, where several beachfront hotels suffered damage and the ocean washed freely through gaps in the dunes at several access roads. Sand barriers built across the openings of several other streets on Napeague held back the waves. The dunes in Montauk do not appear to have been breached, and no significant damage was reported in Hither Hills.