Sag Harbor firefighters worked to pump out water that had flooded Long Island Avenue in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Michael Heller photo.
By Kathryn G. Menu
Hurricane Sandy pummeled the East Coast when it made landfall on October 29, 2012. While the storm — second only to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina in the billions of dollars in damage it inflicted in its wake — was the largest Atlantic hurricane recorded, responsible for over 200 deaths and the destruction of countless homes and businesses, the South Fork was largely sparred the full extent of Sandy’s wrath.
With the exception of a single storm related fatality in Montauk, Hurricane Sandy impacted the South Fork with flooding, beach erosion — both which severely damaged and in some cases destroyed, some homes — power outages, and eventually a gas shortage that resulted in rationing and long lines.
For local government officials, Hurricane Sandy brought municipalities together as officials continued to learn how best to provide resources, and information, to its public.
East Hampton Town conducted its operations jointly with East Hampton Village, through a shared emergency operation center.
Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said working in concert enabled the two municipalities to speak as one voice to the county, state and federal government, as well as emergency service providers.
Wilkinson said the town also realized because of the sheer breadth of the storm it could not depend on the American Red Cross to staff shelters and now plans to staff its own shelters in the future.
In terms of shelters and outreach, the town recently partnered with local citizens to produce a pamphlet that will serve as a resource guide for residents in each hamlet. From a physical point of view, Wilkinson said Hurricane Sandy was the first time the town dumped sand to protect waterfront properties — a practice that will be used again in the future. It has also renewed contracts with various providers to deal with storm clean up, as well as the staging of Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) vehicles at the East Hampton Airport.
“Most of all, you want to ensure people are aware of what is going on, and communications are active,” said Wilkinson.
“I would say the main lesson learned, and it was not that we didn’t know it, was communication, communication, communication,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst. “People need to know what is going on and that there are places to get information.”
After the storm, Throne-Holst would drive Montauk Highway, reporting on gas station closures, those that were open and what lines had formed during the gas shortage. She would call in the information to WLNG 92.1 FM.
“I hadn’t planned on doing it, but people didn’t know where to go and I had to drive to Flanders one day, so I just started,” she said. “And it was so well received.”
The town, said Throne-Holst, often found those bits of information were exactly what people were looking for, what they needed.
The town also created a code red system to communicate with residents and its Community Response Center, which provides day-to-day support in town hall for general inquiries, but is critical in the event of an emergency.
Lastly, helping residents through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimbursement process is another priority of the town, which has been reimbursed 100 percent of what it has requested from FEMA, said Throne-Holst.
For Sag Harbor, it was flooding and power outages that most impacted residents. Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride said while tides largely were what contributed to the eight million gallons that flooded Sag Harbor, trustees are still looking for ways it can address drainage in the low lying neighborhoods.
In the next month, Dvirka & Bartolucci Consulting Engineers of Woodbury are expected to present the Sag Harbor Village Board with its findings and recommendations after finishing a complete remapping of the village’s low lying neighborhoods, but also its outflow pipes and catch basins.
Sag Harbor Village Trustee Robby Stein added that Superintendent of Public Works Dee Yardley has formulated a plan to create a temporary seawall of sand bags and concrete from the village’s long-term parking lot on West Water Street, which could be used on that roadway to prevent flooding from Sag Harbor Cove.
Two pumps have also been upgraded in Redwood and village catch basins are being maintained like never before, said Gilbride.
“I think all in all we did a great job being prepared and I give credit to Dee and Beth [Kamper, village clerk] because they were on the front lines making sure we were ready for anything,” said Gilbride, also crediting the police department, fire department and ambulance corps.
Stein noted the village is also looking into FEMA grant funding to better prepare for the impact of storms. The village’s website is also being updated, said Stein, who would like to see a system similar to Southampton Town’s code red created for Sag Harbor residents.
“My plan is to start taking some corrective actions,” said Gilbride of the drainage and flooding issues. “I want to be able to start on a path where we reinvest money this year into something that in the event of another storm starts to help our residents.”