Hurricane Sandy claimed the life of a still unidentified woman on Monday evening, destroyed an oceanfront home in Wainscott and a infamous nightclub in Hampton Bays, decimated dozens of miles of ocean beaches, and left more than 65,000 South Fork homes and businesses without power for what will likely be many days, even weeks.
The hybrid hurricane-nor’easter, now officially being called “Superstorm Sandy” by the National Weather Service, lashed the East End with winds as high as 90 mph, battered beaches, dunes and structures with towering wind-driven waves and flooded low-lying areas with its storm surge. Nearly 600 people sought refuge at Red Cross shelters at East Hampton High School and Hampton Bays High School on Monday night.
Still, Sandy delivered only a glancing blow locally, as the South Fork was spared much of the storm’s fury. Areas of New Jersey, New York City and Nassau County were hit with stronger winds and heavier rains, for much longer periods, and were swamped by far higher storm surge levels.
“Everyone is saying they survived, that we dodged a bullet and that there was damage but nothing that can’t be repaired,” East Hampton Town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said on Tuesday, as the region began assessing the impacts of the storm. “They’re just happy that we didn’t get the brunt of the storm that other communities got.”
The impacts from the storm on the South Fork were tempered because, as it approached the Tri-state Area, the storm accelerated in speed, roaring ashore in southern New Jersey at more than 30 mph. Because it came in so quickly, the worst winds affected the South Fork for only about two hours, between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Monday afternoon—not the 12 to 24 hours of high winds that had been predicted earlier in the week, when it was expected the storm would stall as it reached land and merged with two other weather systems to its west and north.
And the relatively low rainfall amounts, less than an inch on most of the South Fork, meant that fewer trees were uprooted than if the ground had been softened by rain. The two South Fork towns saw fewer than half of homes and businesses lose power, while on other parts of the island more than 90 percent did. Islandwide, 85 percent of homes and businesses were in the dark on Wednesday, according to the Long Island Power Authority.
Sandy’s early arrival also softened the blow, somewhat, to beaches and shorelines, because the storm’s highest surge of water into the South Fork’s shores and harbors came at approximately the time of low tide, rather than at high tide as had originally been predicted.
The storm surge pushed tides here about 4 feet above what they would have been otherwise. New York City, parts of New Jersey and Connecticut, in contrast, saw unprecedented storm surge levels of 14 feet, inundating many neighborhoods, destroying hundreds of structures and filling the city’s subway tunnels with saltwater. The storm surge’s crest locally at around 3 p.m. coincided with what would have been the lower third of the tide cycle on the ocean beaches.
Nonetheless, Monday morning’s high tide sent the waters of Shelter Island Sound flooding into downtown Sag Harbor, inundating Bay Street, Long Wharf and Long Island Avenue and submerging the docks at local marinas. The evening high tide caused Mecox Bay to flood over Montauk Highway in Water Mill, closing the road for most of Monday night. Much of the low-lying downtown business district in Montauk remained flooded on Tuesday. The rising ocean and bays flooded over much of Dune Road in Hampton Bays and East Quogue. The roadway remained closed on Wednesday morning.
Quogue Village Mayor Peter Sartorius said that the ocean waves breached the dunes and washed onto Dune Road in two places in the village. Several houses sustained significant damage he said.
“Dune Road got hit pretty badly,” the mayor said. “There are a bunch of houses on the east end that sustained damage. It was way worse for the beaches than other storms and Irene.”
According to Southampton Town Highway Superintendent, the ocean breached the dunes and washed across Dune Road in at least two places in Hampton Bays, the sea flowing into Shinnecock Bay, cutting off access to the commercial fishing docks and restaurants near Shinnecock Inlet.
Fire engulfed a structure on Dune Road in East Quogue during the storm but fire fighters couldn’t reach it because of the breaches. The fire was in the vicinity of the Neptune’s nightclub, though whether the fire was at the club or at a nearby house was still unclear on Wednesday morning.