Even though Hurricane Irene did not cause the kind of widespread damage that many on the East End feared it would, the ensuing cleanup and clearing of roads is still expected to cost Southampton Town around $1 million, Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said this week.
While all the numbers are not in yet, Ms. Throne-Holst said on Monday, that is the early estimate of costs. Town officials are hoping to get reimbursed for some of that money through the Federal Emergency Management Agency after President Barack Obama declared Suffolk County a disaster area last month. On Friday, State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office issued a statement saying that federal aid is available for Suffolk County homeowners and businesses that suffered damage incurred by the hurricane.
“It was costly, but I think it’s very clear that it could have been way more costly,” Ms. Throne-Holst said.
There were a few lessons learned from the storm, the supervisor said. One that became apparent throughout was the need for the town to open and staff its own shelters instead of relying on the American Red Cross, she said. The only American Red Cross shelter in Southampton Town was at the Hampton Bays High School—there was none east of the Shinnecock Canal.
“The Red Cross will simply not suffice,” she said. “We have to deal with our own sheltering needs.”
At the same time, she commended Hampton Bays school administrators—singling out Superintendent Lars Clemensen and Business Administrator Larry Luce—for running the shelter there efficiently.
There were many agencies and individuals at Town Hall that worked together before, during and after the storm to make sure things ran smoothly, Ms. Throne-Holst said. She thanked the town’s Information Technology Department for helping generate detailed maps that helped the police department find out exactly where the flood zones were located, and for spotting downed limbs and trees.
“People just came together and worked so hard together to make this work, and so I think that there’s a ton of people that serve this town that deserve a great sense of recognition and [a] thank you from people,” she said.
Town Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor also thanked his employees and other town departments, including the Department of Municipal Works that is headed by Director of Facilities Management Christine Fetten. Her office set up the town’s transfer stations so highway crews and town residents could drop off their waste immediately after the storm.
“They all work well,” Mr. Gregor said of his employees. “They didn’t complain. They came in. I’m very proud and thankful.”
He said the storm also taught him one important lesson: His department isn’t adequately staffed. He said his department had around 96 employees in the early 1990s, noting that that figured has fallen to 65 today. “It’s hard to do the mission,” he said.
Highway Department employees worked 12-hour shifts for the week following the storm, which made landfall on the East End late on August 27. There were 18 private payloaders and 38 outside contractor trucks assisting the town’s fleet to help clear the roads of limbs and brush, he said. The outside contractors accounted for about $94,000 of the expenditures between August 30 and September 2, according to Mr. Gregor.
He added that one of his workers, whom he did not identify, was injured when he cut his thigh while working a chain saw. The worker was transported by Hampton Bays Volunteer Ambulance to the hospital, where he received a dozen stitches, Mr. Gregor said.
“For having 60 workers and another 38 contractors, that’s a lot of iron to be wielding to not have [a] serious injury—so that’s good,” he said.
Southampton Town Police Chief William Wilson Jr. thanked Lieutenant Robert Iberger, who serves as the town’s emergency preparedness officer, stating that he did a good job in helping the whole town gear up for the storm.
“Obviously, I’m very proud of the way that the police department performed,” Chief Wilson said. “I think everybody stepped up. It’s not easy leaving your family during a time of emergency, but that’s the dedication they had to their profession and service.”
Police officers also worked 12-hour shifts and manned intersections where traffic lights were not functioning, Chief Wilson said. They were also able to stay on top of calls coming into the department, he said.
“I just think that townwide, across the East End, everybody should give themselves a pat on the back,” the chief said. “And, hopefully, we won’t have to test our readiness for some time.”