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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

Islandwide, more than 450,000 homes lost power, the most outages experienced since Hurricane Gloria hit the island in 1985. The last time sustained hurricane-force winds were felt on the South Fork was when Hurricane Bob, a Category 2 storm, passed to the east of Montauk in August 1991.

Residents were not the only one affected by the power outages: The Southampton Town Justice Court remained closed on Monday and part of Tuesday because of a lack of power. Southampton Hospital lost electricity at approximately 11:30 a.m. on Sunday and switched to generator power. The hospital borrowed a second generator from Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead as a backup to its own power source until LIPA restored power at about midnight on Sunday.

The supervisor said that throughout the system, preparations and dedication meant smooth responses and a healthy safety blanket, but that with bigger hits sure to come—another tropical system, Katia, is already moving along a similar track as Irene and is expected to become a hurricane on Thursday—there are lessons to be learned.

“Truth be told, we were spared the worst of it,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “We are satisfied with our response effort this time, but we’re well aware of the fact that it could have been far worse, and we need to continue to improve our systems as we move forward.”

Residents throughout town were cleaning up their properties early this week and voicing thanks that the storm was not worse.

“It looks like we lucked out, it looks like everybody else got it a lot worse,” said Susan Jurkowich in Hampton Bays on Monday. “We’re on the water but we didn’t evacuate. Our dock was under, our neighbor’s dock floated by us.”

“This one was much better than Gloria or Bob,” said Elizabeth Shane of Remsenburg. “A tree went down across the street. Our house is fine.”

In East Quogue, Reginald Kennedy said he refused to evacuate even though the fire department urged him to do so on Saturday. Mr. Kennedy said a 100-year-old oak tree went down in his yard, and he lost power and telephone about 2 a.m. on Sunday morning. “I’ve been living here for 39 years—I’ve been through a lot of storms,” he said. “This one was the worst.”

Joyce and Henry Flohr had a near-miss when the largest tree on their property in East Hampton came down at the height of the storm. The giant oak fell away from their house. “If it had fallen the other way it would have crushed us,” Mr. Flohr said on Sunday evening. “We’re lucky.”

Oceanfront homeowners, generally free from the hazards of falling trees, were also lucky in that Irene’s nearly 6-foot storm surge, even though it coincided almost exactly with high tide along the ocean shore, did not push the storm’s towering waves far enough ashore to do significant damage. U.S. Representative Tim Bishop surveyed the damage on the beachfront on Monday by air with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Area and said the shoreline appeared to largely absorb the storm’s punches.

“It seemed that there was more flooding of the inner shore, along the north side of Shinnecock Bay, near Little Neck Road and Far Pond,” Mr. Bishop said in a phone interview Monday. “There’s no question that there’s damage to the beach, but it wasn’t particularly significant. I think it speaks to the wisdom of the beach nourishment projects we’ve done.”

Mr. Bishop said in an official statement that he was going to be pushing for federal dollars to help with the cleanup and recovery efforts from the storm. “As we move into the assessment and recovery phase, I want to make sure that we are aggressively cataloging storm damage and that all possible aid is brought back to Suffolk County,” he said.

President Barack Obama declared New York a disaster area, making potentially tens of millions of dollars available to the state to help with costs incurred as a result of the storm.

Southampton Town highway crews—all 52 employees—were on the road to start with cleanup by lunchtime on Sunday afternoon and have been working largely around the clock ever since.

Ms. Throne-Holst said the town has not had a chance to begin tallying the costs of the cleanup but said she was hopeful that the federal disaster area designation would make funding available to ease the financial crunch of the cleanup. “To what extent that reimbursement comes, we’ll have to see,” she said. “This is a whammy to our budget that we can ill afford right now.”

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