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Aug 29, 2011 10:24 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Irene Spares East End Her Greatest Fury

East End Cleans Up  -- Click To Upload Your Photos
East End Cleans Up -- Click To Upload Your Photos
Aug 31, 2011 11:18 AM

Thousands of South Fork residents, including some 6,000 households in Southampton Town, remained without power midway through this week as electrical and cleanup crews worked around the clock in the wake of Hurricane Irene, which passed though the Long Island region on Sunday.

The massive storm, 450 miles across and once a Category 3 hurricane, was downgraded from hurricane to tropical storm strength just before its center of circulation made landfall near New York City at 9 a.m. on Sunday. Irene buffeted the South Fork with extended periods of sustained winds of 30 to 40 mph and gusts in excess of 60 mph, bringing down trees and power lines and scouring away local beaches and dunes.

No significant injuries or deaths were reported in either East Hampton or Southampton towns, and damage to property appears to have been relatively minimal. Nonetheless, the costs of cleanup and repairs to infrastructure are likely to run into the millions of dollars, local officials said. Most added they felt the area had gotten off lightly, since the storm weakened significantly in the hours before it hit Long Island, and because the heaviest rains largely missed the East End. They also credited the extensive preparations, and the fact that residents heeded warnings and evacuations, for the lack of injuries.

“I think we were extremely well-prepared, and that manifested itself throughout the storm,” Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said on Wednesday. “We a owe a great thanks to our emergency coordinators. We had everything in place.”

Ms. Throne-Holst said the two hiccups in the wake of the storm were the understaffing of the town’s only designated Red Cross shelter at Hampton Bays High School, and the response to the widespread power outages. “Had this been a bigger event, we would have been in trouble” because of the lack of staffing assigned by the Red Cross to the Hampton Bays shelter, she said. “Lars Clemensen, Larry Luce and everyone at the school really saved it—they came in with their families and their kids and set it all up.”

The East End received only a faint hint of the fury Hurricane Irene had once packed. Sustained winds on the South Fork likely never exceeded 40 mph, according to National Weather Service observations.

In Bridgehampton, Richard Hendrickson, a National Weather Service weather observer, recorded a 65-mph gust and 1.3 inches of rain. The weather station at Montauk Airport recorded just 1.2 inches of rain—areas to the west of New York City saw between 10 and 12 inches over a 20-hour period, beginning Saturday night—and a peak wind gust of 49 mph.

The strongest gust recorded in Suffolk County, 71 mph, came from a weather station in East Moriches. The highest gust recorded in the New York region was 79 mph at LaGuardia Airport, which also registered the highest sustained winds in the region, 62 mph.

The strongest winds on the South Fork, and much of the damage to power lines, came after the center of the storm had passed to the north and skies had begun to clear.

“You saw the winds actually tick up a notch out there on the backside of the storm,” National Weather Service meteorologist David Stark said on Monday. “It was a large area of circulation, the winds started many hours before the storm, but you never quite got to tropical storm force [on the East End]. It hit land in New Jersey, so that weakened it, and the cold water weakened it. The farther west you went, the stronger the winds were.”

Despite having been spared the brunt of the storm’s fury, the South Fork suffered widespread power outages. Immediately after the storm, LIPA reported more than 18,000 households were without power in Southampton Town and nearly 7,000 in East Hampton Town. By Wednesday evening, the majority of those households had their power restored.

Ms. Throne-Holst said there was some frustration with the speed at which LIPA got repairs under way, spending Sunday afternoon and much of Monday making assessments of the damage to its lines in the region.

“We were frustrated on Monday, when there was seemingly no sign of LIPA, but they assured us that there were here and they were assessing, and they finally set to work Monday,” she said. “They’ve chipped away at the majority of the outages, but there is still a good-sized group to go.”

Dozens of electrical crews contracted by the Long Island Power Authority, some from as far away as Oklahoma, were stationed at the East Hampton Airport on Saturday. Crews have been working around the clock since Monday, though LIPA is still estimating that it could be until Friday or later before all local customers have their power restored. On Tuesday, New York Senator Charles Schumer called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to muster more crews to aid in the restoration of power to Long Islanders.

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