On Thursday, the day before Hurricane Earl is predicted to pass off the coast of Montauk Point, official and individuals around Sag Harbor Village and the East End made preparations for the storm. Citing Earl, the Long Island Rail Road canceled service east of Speonk and Ronkonkoma on Friday. Even though the hurricane is expected to pass 100 to 150 miles away from Montauk, as of Thursday evening, the National Weather Service prepared residents for tropical storm conditions with gusts as fast as 50 miles per hour.
At 9 a.m. on Wednesday morning, Hurricane Earl, a spinning top of clouds and precipitation, was churning up the mid-Atlantic coast with winds of 125 miles per hour. Tourists were fleeing North Carolina’s Outer Banks islands en masse as a state of emergency was called. Other areas received mandatory evacuation orders. And all across the country hundreds of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) meteorologists studied screens and tracked the possible trajectory of the powerful storm.
Above: Rich Simmons of the Ship Ashore Marina guides forklift driver Corey Freleng as they hurry to remove boats from the water from the impending storm Earl on Wednesday.
In Sag Harbor, the air at an emergency preparedness meeting for both Sag Harbor and North Haven village officials was decidedly calm, but no less serious. Outlining a plan 72, 48, 24 and 12 hours up to the hurricane possibly making landfall, the seemingly relaxed officials were exercising caution with these well detailed strategies. As of Wednesday evening, Hurricane Earl was a Category 4 storm and is expected to pass 100 miles southeast of Montauk Point sometime on Friday. NOAA’s Upton Long Island office estimated that by then, sustained winds of 40 miles per hour and gusts of 50 to 55 miles per hour winds will hit the East End. The effects of the storm are expected to peak on Friday night, when the ocean waves are anticipated to reach 13 feet locally and the area is projected to receive one-and-a-quarter inch of rain.
Boat and ship owners, noted Ship Ashore marina owner Rick Pickering, cannot afford to be lackadaisical in their response to this potential hurricane. In order to protect their water crafts from wind and waves, Pickering recommends hauling them out of the water at least before Friday. On Tuesday, Pickering was handling a long list of requests from clients asking for their boat to be put on land. By the afternoon, they had already hauled 17 vessels on shore.
“It is not the ‘if,’ but the ‘what if.’ If it is the ‘what if’ then we are screwed. You have to be prepared,” Pickering remarked. “I have been through a few hurricanes. I would say at minimum we are having a full gale storm. It is a very fine line … If it is two degrees west it means it will be a whole lot more. You can never predict what a storm will do. By Thursday we are going to be pretty tired. By Friday afternoon it could be fairly ugly. By Saturday morning we can no longer haul boats.”
Pickering noted that his crew could only handle around 30 to 50 boat removal requests a day in the days leading up to the storm. Of the roughly 250 boats at his marina, Pickering estimated 100 would be hauled in advance of the storm on a first come first serve basis.
Above: The eye of the storm.
At his business and at home, Pickering prepares for hurricanes. While living on Rysam Street during Hurricane Gloria, Pickering watched the water splash up to the American Legion on Bay Street. His electricity was out for eight days, and two schooners were washed up near the windmill by the Long Wharf.
“There was devastation because no one paid attention [to warnings],” Pickering recalled.
This week, Pickering found himself preparing once again for the unknown. His Prospect Street home was already “battened down.” The lawn furniture was stowed away and his four stand-by generators were well fueled and ready to run. New batteries were purchased and placed into flashlights. “I am not afraid,” Pickering said.
Southampton Town Police, however, believe many residents and visitors won’t heed warnings of potential calamity. Noting this fact, their agency has sent out advisories urging individuals to charge batteries, purchase supplies, have plenty of cash on hand, and, they added “be prepared to leave if necessary, don’t wait to the last minute.”
Police noted that although they weren’t expecting the hurricane to reach land, they pointed out, “If the track changed to the degree that the velocity of anticipated winds or impact of surge were considered a serious threat, a voluntary evacuation would be requested possibly followed by a mandatory evacuation wherein members of the local fire service would go door to door in affected areas and transportation coordinated for those who needed it.”
All levels of government, from federal, county, town and village, issued statements urging East Coast residents to prepare themselves. The Federal Emergency Management Agency advised families to create a community plan and put together a kit with 72 hours worth of food and water. Sag Harbor Village Harbormaster Bob Bori directed boat owners to check their anchor lines and make sure everything on deck was secure, if they opted to leave it in the water.
According to Sag Harbor Police Chief Tom Fabiano, 24 hours before a serious and dire weather event, the mayor would call a state of emergency. A mandatory evacuation is called 12 hours before a severe storm with only residents of certain low lying areas in Sag Harbor and North Haven brought to the Pierson gymnasium. The school’s gym — the official refuge in an emergency — holds up to 800 people but can hold more in the hallways, noted Fabiano. Town and village police pointed out that residents should keep themselves updated on the storm by tuning into WLNG Radio 92.1. Chief Fabiano gravely noted that a list would be made of all residents who refused to leave their homes in the event of a mandatory evacuation. At around the same time, the harbormaster’s boat would be pulled out of the water.
NOAA officials and the Coast Guard warned swimmers that in the days leading up to Hurricane Earl passing Long Island, the tempest will create rip currents and urged beachgoers to use extreme caution when swimming at East End swimming spots. NOAA’s Upton office added that waves are expected to range from seven to eight feet high today.
The sobering “what if” plans failed to dampen the mood during Wednesday morning’s meeting in Sag Harbor Village. North Haven Board member Jim Smyth, owner of The Corner Bar, joked that everyone could weather the storm at his establishment, with someone chiming in, “Just as long as the blender is still working.”