While the discomfort and inconvenience of power outages will likely be the most talked about impact from Hurricane Sandy, her most enduring hallmark will be the decimated beaches, dunes and homes along the ocean.
Along the whole of the South Fork, ocean beaches were erased by the sea for most of Monday and Tuesday and dune systems battered by the towering waves impacting with them with the force of a locomotive.
Areas with thin or small dune systems were almost uniformly overrun by the surf. In several places along barrier islands in Hampton Bays, East Quogue and Quogue the ocean washed across Dune Road and flowed into Shinnecock and Tiana Bay. In Bridgehampton and Sagaponack overwashes into coastal ponds occurred in several places as well.
A beachfront cottage in Wainscott, owned by Revlon chairman Ronald Lauder, was completely destroyed by waves that leapt over the wall of sandbags that had been placed between it and the sea before the storm. On Tuesday morning, the bags remained, as did the cottage’s rear staircase—and little else. Just three years ago the cottage had been saved by the same wall of giant sandbags, known as Geocubes, which absorbed and deflected the pounding of the storm’s waves. But the waves and surge from Hurricane Sandy seemed to have washed right over the top of the sandbags and attacked the house directly, carrying much of it across the thin ribbon of sand into Wainscott Pond on the other side. The splintered remains of the house’s walls, and much of its contents, were scattered across the beach and the shores of the pond.
According to Billy Mack of Westhampton coastal engineering firm First Coastal Corp, there were also breaches into Fairfield Pond in Sagaponack and Sammy’s Creek at the eastern end of Mecox Bay.
At two homes in Sagaponack that had little or no dune systems in front of them, sea water flowed through their first floors.
The town-owned beach pavilion at Mecox Beach, which the town spent $100,000 just last spring to rebuild dunes flattened during Hurricane Irene, was “wiped out,” Mr. Mack said.
“Mecox Beach got completely anihilated
To the west of Mecox Beach, several of the houses that were at the center of extreme erosion in the 1990s were again slammed by storm waves, their foundations and wooden pilings exposed where waves washed beneath them.
West of Shinnecock Inlet dunes were overtopped in several areas, most notably in the quarter mile stretch between the inlet and Ponquogue, where artificial dunes that were scheduled to be bolstered this winter, were completely flattened, their sand creating a deep blanket of sand across the roadway and into the boat basins on the other side. Another breach buried Dune Road in East Quogue, preventing fire fighters from reaching a burning structure during the storm.
In West Hampton Dunes, Mayor Gary Vegliante said that the broad system of dunes created as part of the Army Corps of Engineers rebuilding.
To the east, Sandy’s waves plowed through artificial dunes that had been built across the front of several hotels in downtown Montauk, the charging waves undermining the buildings’ foundations, scouring sand from around the pilings they are built on.
Along all of the ocean beaches, the broad ribbons of sand left by gentle summer swells were completely covered by the storm’s waves, leaving only meager shadows of what had been when the waves finally retreated on Tuesday afternoon.
Dune systems in several places also suffered serious damage, most notably just to the east and west of Georgica Beach where as much as 30 feet of dunes were washed away, leaving rock revetments exposed and the remains of staircases and lawn ornaments strewn across the sand.
The erosion leaves the South Fork’s beaches in anemic condition just as the winter storm season, usually the most destructive to beaches and dunes, is getting under way.
After the erosion of Hurricane Irene last summer, a calm winter, spring and summer had allowed many beaches to build back broad and high stockpiles of sand. That insurance has now been eliminated.