Tag Archive | "Tropical Storm Irene"

Sag Harbor Schools Bring The Holiday Spirit Up North

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Xmas Donations

By Claire Walla

Above: (left to right) Veronica Baum, Lucy Beeton, Charlie Browning, Ryan Brown (all third graders); Hayley Schimmer, Sam Miller, Adrian Pickering, Emily Verneuille, Siena Remkus-Fabiano (members of Pierson High School’s National Honors Society).

When your hometown has been devastated by rising floodwaters — homes washed away, jobs dissolved — the holidays are not the easiest time of year. But for the Windham School District in upstate New York, which was seriously damaged by Tropical Storm Irene back in August, the holiday season has already arrived.

Last Friday, December 8 Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto and Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone, decked out in matching Santa hats, showed up at Windham with a van full of toys. In total, they presented 12 large cartons of gifts, as well as a shoebox full of gift certificates, to the school’s guidance counselor and representatives from the school’s student council.

“The school could not have been more appreciative,” Malone told members of the Sag Harbor School Board at a meeting last Monday, December 12. “Sag Harbor deserves a nice congratulations.”

The Sag Harbor School District has a special relationship with the Windham School District: it’s where Dr. Gratto had been superintendent before coming to the East End.

After reaching out to the school’s guidance counselor, the Sag Harbor School District received a list of holiday items specifically requested by students at the Windham school. (The list represented items listed by students from 44 families that the Windham guidance counselor identified as being most in need.) Those items were then written on pieces of paper made to look like light bulbs. Members of the Sag Harbor School District were asked to pick a bulb and bring back the corresponding present.

School Board Member Sandi Kruel commented on the enthusiasm Pierson High School students demonstrated during this collection process.

“The student council was basically forcing people to take bulbs off the tree,” she said with a laugh after describing having been relatively accosted by student council members demanding she take a bulb as well. The students did a good job, she concluded.

“Our [high school] students worked very hard to package these gifts,” Dr. Gratto said. And just before their departure up north, he added that students from both Pierson and the elementary school worked together to pile the toys into the administrators’ metaphorical sleigh. (Actually Mr. Malone’s mini van.)

“The Windham community was very appreciative,” he reiterated.

In other news…

Creative Writing Flourishes

“I used to think of writing as a chore, rather than an interactive medium,” Pierson High School senior Drew Devito told members of the Sag Harbor School Board on Monday, December 12. But, he said, that was before he attended the intensive, five-day writing workshop put on by the Young American Writers Project (YAWP) through Stony Brook Southampton.

“My experience there was amazing,” Devito explained. “I learned to appreciate writing a little more than I had before.”

He attended this workshop with four other Pierson students as well as students from around Long Island and one from the Bronx. The students stayed in dorms on the Southampton campus and spent at least eight hours each day participating in free-form writing exercises and a final project.

“Each one of us wrote a finished one-act play,” Devito continued. “Just to say that, in my opinion, it’s an amazing feat.”

The plays ranged from Devito’s humorous, semi-autobiographical account of a lactose-intolerant student who consumes pizza and ice cream with whipped cream on top; to Amanda Gleeson’s play, which she described as a little more abstract.

“It’s a commentary on how society teaches us to alienate touch, and our innate human need for it,” she said.

Sophomore Matthew Frazier’s play — an end-of-the-world thriller about the love between a flame of fire and an ice cube — was chosen from among the bunch to be performed at the Avram Theatre on the Stony Brook Southampton campus this past weekend.

Elementary School Awarded

Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone announced that Sag Harbor Elementary School has been recognized by the Character Education Partnership (CEP) for its “Blue Slip” Awards and its “Soup-er Bowl” Celebration.

Each year, students are awarded “blue slips” by parents or administrators for actions that adhere to the school’s Standards of Behavior. And to celebrate the Super Bowl — instead of veg-ing out on chips and dip — elementary school students gather in the auditorium with a can of soup and predict the winner of the big match by placing their can in a pile for the team of their choice. (All cans are later donated to the Sag Harbor Food Pantry.)

“The joke is that I show up as Howard Cosell,” Malone joked. “And the kids are like, Who’s Howard Cosell?”

CEP, a nonprofit organization that promotes character education programs in schools across the country, honors many schools for programs that demonstrate “promising practices.” This year, Sag Harbor Elementary is one of 260 award winners chosen from an applicant pool of 500.

Homeless No More

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By Claire Walla

When howling winds from Tropical Storm Irene ravaged the East End last month, hundreds of tree branches snapped and entire tree trunks were split in two — locally, perhaps none more memorable than a tree in Pine Neck. The trunk practically burst open in the midst of the storm, splaying bits of bark in various directions only to reveal a hollow gap in the trunk’s interior, where trio of baby raccoons had made their nest.

An image of one of the four-week-old cubs made the front page of The Express the week following the storm, its furry body dwarfed by thick slabs of wood and its characteristic black mask slanting downward, almost giving the creature a worried expression as it stared out at the photographer.

Without their home and with the loss of their mother — who couldn’t be found after the tree collapsed — the creatures were destined for their demise.

Baby animals too young to survive on their own are often put in the care of local wildlife rehabilitators who volunteer their time nurturing them until they can safely be put back in the wild. It’s standard protocol. But not for raccoons.

Along with skunks and bats, wildlife rehabilitators are prohibited from caring for raccoons by the Suffolk County branch of the New York State Health Department. Instead, skunks, bats and raccoons that are wounded or are not entirely self-sufficient must be destroyed because they are deemed rabies-vector animals. (According to Ginnie Frati, Executive Director of the Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons, rabies is most common in these three animals, though it has not been reported in Suffolk County in the last few years.)

This would have been the case for these three cubs, had it not been for one fortunate coincidence.

As Irene gained momentum on the morning of August 28 and most East End residents were hunkered down in the comfort of their own homes, John (not his real name) was out driving around and taking pictures of the storm. That’s when he came up roughly 15 people gathered around a tree on Elm Street in Pine Neck. And when someone told him the tree was home to three baby raccoons, he exclaimed, “That was like hitting the lottery!”

A member of the Wildlife Rescue Center’s rescue team, he scooped them up in his grey, plastic rescue tub — which he always keeps in his car — and immediately took them home.

Even though it’s illegal for Suffolk County residents to do so (which is why his real name is being withheld for this article), John said he couldn’t help it.

“I grew up with raccoons, I had them as pets,” he explained. “So when I saw them in the tree, I immediately went into action.”

The cubs are now living in John’s backyard somewhere in the greater Sag Harbor area. He says they follow him wherever he goes and to demonstrate, he places all three cubs in the grass. They immediately swirl around his feet — and when he begins to walk the trio trails behind his every step, prompting an impromptu game of follow-the-leader.

The raccoons are kept inside a lidded wooden crate originally built for storing firewood and most recently used to store scuba diving equipment — not because John is worried animals might run away, but to protect them from predators.

“A local male raccoon would kill these babies if it had the chance,” he said. “Raccoons are very territorial.”

So with a modest tree branch inside the box for décor, the raccoons’ makeshift habitat is cleaned regularly and the creatures are fed a diet of liquid nutrition like Similac, baby food and the gravy from canned dog food. (The meatier pieces are put outside in the yard “for the local raccoons.”) While John said it’s taken the babies a while to transition into solid foods, he’s finally at a point where he can begin serving hot-dog pieces and slices of watermelon.

“What I really should be doing is taking them to the cove and looking for crabs and clams,” he said. With an appetite for local sea life, the hope is that the critters might be more inclined to avoid dumpster diving in the future. Although, John also pointed out, those efforts might be fruitless: “They just eat everything.”

According to John, there are several people like him on the East End who harbor raccoons illegally.

“We do everything we can to get the babies back with their mother,” said Ginnie Frati of the Wildlife Rescue Center. “But someone is really supposed to bring them to us for euthanasia.”

Unfortunately, Frati continued, some East End residents will call trappers to get rid of raccoons, and often the animals are drowned. While other parts of New York State can issue rabies-vector-species licenses for wildlife rehabilitators, such licenses have been banned in Suffolk County since 2004.

“I’ve been fighting this for years,” she continued, noting that there is a large population of raccoons on the East End. “In baby season we probably get about one to two calls a day. It’s heartbreaking for us to take the calls.”

As far as John is concerned, the rules in Suffolk County are a bit extreme. While raccoons have been known to carry rabies, he feels the animals have been unfairly singled out. Any number of animals can carry a whole host of diseases, he added.

“My neighbor believes rescuing animals is a waste of time, that it interferes with the course of nature,” he continued. “And I understand that. But, I also believe that if it wasn’t for us, we wouldn’t have to be out here rescuing them.”

John said most of the rescues he’s gone on have been influenced by humans in one way or another, whether it’s a deer that’s been hit by a car or a squirrel that’s ingested anti-freeze.

He plans to let the three raccoons go in November, if not sooner, when they’re big enough to survive on their own. He plans to take them to a place that’s relatively rural.

“I’ll build a box for them and set it up with some food,” he explained. “Then I’ll get in my car and go… and try to just keep driving.”

A Conversation With: John Gratto

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By Claire Walla

Sag Harbor School Superintendent Dr. John Gratto who, before coming to Sag Harbor, worked in the Windham-Ashland-Jewett School District in upstate New York. The area, including the school, was decimated by floodwaters in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene and earlier this month, he went back to visit. Now, he’s hoping the Sag Harbor community can help the school there rebuild.

Having lived in Windham and been a vital part of the local community, what was it like seeing all the pictures of the aftermath of the storm?

I felt so sad. I almost cry when I see those pictures. In Prattsville, the entire main street is gone. A lot of people don’t have their livelihood anymore.

Was there still a lot of floodwater within buildings when you were there, or had it mostly dissipated by then?

Mostly you could just see watermarks on buildings. When I went into the movie theatre it was so stunning to me. I’m six feet tall and the watermark on the white screen was higher than I was.

It looks like the majority of the damage happened right in the center of town.

Well, [in a mountainous region] people tend to live in the valley near the river. And when that river floods it affects all those homes and businesses. My [former] guidance secretary: her home got washed away.

What was Windham like before the flood?

Windham was a beautiful town, much like Sag Harbor. As you’re driving in, there’s a sign on the side of the road that says, “The Gem of the Catskills.” And it really was…

It’s no longer the gem of the Catskills.

Did you visit the home where you used to live?

I did. I actually lived at a bed and breakfast not far from a trailer park that had 23 trailers in it. Now, there are no more trailers. Those 23 people are all homeless.

I asked [the three families now living at the bed and breakfast] if they needed any help with anything and they said they didn’t.

But, of course, I was there two weeks after the flood.

I’m trying to put the situation into terms I can try to imagine, like what would it look like if there was comparable flooding here on Main Street in Sag Harbor?

It is so difficult to imagine. In Windham, the school must be about 400 feet away from the river. So, the water was 20 feet above flood levels. You look at a river and you think, how can that river ever be so big? Think how high the water would have to be to leave mud in the windowsills. It was at least six to eight feet high.

With floodwaters destroying so many small businesses, I imagine many residents are now unemployed.

I would bet that about one-third of the people right near Route 23 are unemployed. Everyone related to the ski mountain is likely unemployed, too. I rode my bicycle to the mountain and there’s a big sign that says, “closed.” Many, many people in the town work there. After the school, the mountain is the biggest employer.

Were you able to visit the school at all?

There were signs outside the school that said “do not enter/hazardous area,” so I tried to stay away. But [of what he was able to see], the superintendent’s office didn’t exist anymore. It was just metal studs in the wall. They’ve been working feverishly to open the school and they’re hoping to open next week. [An update on the school’s website indicates the school will officially be opening September 26.]

With buildings washed away and classrooms completely flooded, there’s a lot the town needs to do to get back to normal. Do you know how the town aims to tackle this recovery effort?

When I was there, the school had a restoration company doing some of the cleanup. I noticed these trailers called “quick-response team,” which deal with flood and mold issues. With wet studs and wet walls, mold can quickly develop.

Do you think many of the kids will have left the school district because of all the damage?

No. There are two big differences between that school district and ours. It’s much more geographically sparse, and there aren’t any good private school choices in the area. Plus, the school is the center of the community. I don’t think people would want to leave the district, there’s a lot of affinity for that school.

So, did this event cause the community to band together?

Yes! There’s a picture that was taken of a woman on Main Street [in front of the town’s historical society/library] holding a pot of coffee. She went out there the first day and made coffee for the people who were working. The next day, a man came out with a gas grill and it all just grew from there. Lots of food was donated.

What does the school need in terms of supplies?

I talked to the superintendent this morning [Friday, September 16] and he said they’re most in need of money. The piano, percussion instruments, marching band uniforms: they all got flooded. Also, ski equipment. Skiing’s big up there, it’s part of their physical education. So, more than anything else, they need money to buy all that stuff.

We have some surplus supplies that we can donate to them, like library books. But the superintendent asked me to hold off on donating things until late October because they don’t have anyplace to store it yet … their storage building and their bus garage got washed away.

When you talked to him, did he sound optimistic?

Yes, he’s a very positive, get-it-done type of guy. He used to be in the military. But, at the same time, he acknowledges that they need plenty of help.

The Pierson High School National Honor Society is working to organize a fundraiser for the Windham/Ashland/Jewett School District. For anyone wishing to send money to the school, you can send checks directly to: Windham-Ashland-Jewett Central School, Main Street, P.O. Box 429, Windham, N.Y. 12496.

Villages and Town Begin Clean up Efforts As Thousands of Residents Remain Without Power

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In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, which made landfall near New York City just after 9 a.m. on Sunday afternoon, many local officials noted that the East End of Long Island dodged a bullet, escaping a direct hit by a storm that ravaged portions of the eastern seaboard, led to 24 deaths and left millions without power.

On Monday morning, as the sound of wood chippers, chainsaws and emergency service vehicles filled the air, the Village of Sag Harbor’s Main Street remained powerless, the Municipal Building running on a generator and Judy Schiavoni passing out spoonfuls of ice cream in front of Schiavoni’s Market – Sag Harbor’s lone grocery store also without power and unwilling to waste its ice cream stores.

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Despite that, Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride said “the village is in relatively good shape,” a fact he attributes not just to the luck the East End experienced as Hurricane Irene weakened into a tropical storm and moved further west before making landfall in New York.

Superintendent of Public Works Dee Yardley has had his crews out since 4 a.m., said Gilbride, clearing roadways from trees and debris, making way for power crews. Gilbride said Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano was told by representatives from the Long Island Power Authority that they hope to have the village up and running with power by the end of the day.

As of Monday morning, LIPA has restored power to about 25% of the 523,000 customers that were affected by the weekend storm. An estimated 398,000 customers remain without power. As of noon on Monday, 342 residents in Sag Harbor remained without power. In Bridgehampton, 388 remained without power, while other sections of East Hampton and Southampton Towns remained largely without service.

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According to LIPA officials, full restoration of power on Long Island and in the Rockaways may take as long as a week.

In Southampton Town, Highway Department announced on Monday it would be doing a special “storm related” curbside pickup, and will pick up brush and larger branches – if they are separated into two different piles – from the streets. Any storm related kitchen waste or food waste will be accepted free of charge until Wednesday, August 31 at the North Sea, Hampton Bays, and Westhampton Transfer Stations.  Any storm-damaged appliances such as refrigerators and/or air conditioning units may be brought to the Hampton Bays and North Sea Transfer Stations, free of charge until Wednesday, August 31. Any storm damaged bulk items may be brought to Hampton Bays and North Sea Transfer Station, free of charge until Wednesday, August 31.  Any storm related brush disposal shall be accepted at North Sea, Hampton Bays and Westhampton Transfer stations free of charge until Sunday, September 4.

In East Hampton, Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson announced that the transfer stations in East Hampton would also accept debris at no charge.

Blacksmith Shop 3In Southampton Village, on Monday this historical society announced that the C.& E. Bennett Blacksmith Shop was a victim of Tropical Storm Irene.

This is terrible news for volunteers Ed and Carryl Howell who worked so hard on the Shop over many years. The collection of blacksmith tools came from Carryl Bennett Howell’s family who had a blacksmith shop in Water Mill. Ed and Carryl now live in Kentucky.

“The other buildings made it fine through the storm,” said the society in a press release. “One bonus, a dead apple tree - slated for removal at Halsey House – came down.”

LIPA Reports Over 200,000 Without Power in Suffolk County

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As Tropical Storm Irene continued to sweep through the region, the Long Island Power Authority has reported that as of 9 a.m. there were 217,590 people dealing with power outages.

In Southampton, a total of 20,855 residents have reported outages, including 1,836 homes in Sag Harbor. In Bridgehampton, 229 residents are without power, in North Haven Village, a total of four residents have reported power outages, in North Sea 724 are without power and in Noyac 103 have reported power outages. Water Mill has also sustained serious power outages, with 2,848 of its 3,202 LIPA customers reporting their power is down.

In East Hampton Town, a total of 4,338 residents were without power, according to LIPA’s website, the most in the hamlet of Amagansett, which has 1,966 residents without power. Montauk has also been heavily affected, with 1,098 residents without power. 930 residents in Springs have also reported outages.

“Severe weather conditions from Hurricane Irene are causing widespread power outages across Long Island,” read a statement on LIPA’s website. “Estimated power restoration times will not available until the storm passes and damage can be assessed. Our crews will begin damage assessment and restoration as soon conditions permit.”

If you see a downed wire, assume it is a live electric wire and report it immediately to LIPA at 1-800-490-0075.