Riverhead braces for Hurricane Earl

09/02/2010 12:00 AM |

The Millbrook Community mobile home park on Mill Road is one of several in Riverhead Town, which has more mobile homes than any other Long Island town. But the homes are susceptible to strong winds, so officials are planning to evacuate residents using school buses if need be.

So what does Hurricane Earl have in store for Riverhead?

The exact answer to that question is expected to arrive sometime Friday, but town officials say they’re bracing for the worst, just in case.

“So far it appears there’s a chance we may get some tropical force winds, between 30 and 50 miles per hour, and maybe two to three inches of rain,” said Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller, the town’s emergency preparedness manager.

But that’s if the current predictions don’t change.

“It’s a little difficult because it’s so far out,” he said Wednesday. “There’s a lot of uncertainty, so we’re treating it as if the hurricane is going to hit here.”

“We are basically watching it and putting our response plan into action,” said Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter. “The big concern I see is for the mobile homes. We’re planning to have buses ready to evacuate the mobile home communities to an emergency shelter if necessary.”

Mr. Walter said most mobile homes are only equipped to handle winds from 60 to 90 miles per hour when they’re strapped down. He said the town intends to call mobile home communities to alert them to the possible evacuation plan. Riverhead has more mobile homes than any other Long Island town.

But some of those residents may not be at such great risk.

Glenwood Village is one of the town’s largest mobile home parks, with about 520 homes. Its owner, Brian Stark, said most of the homes there were built to withstand sustained winds of at least 120 miles per hour.

“Even in the hurricane of 1938, we never had winds higher than 100 miles per hour,” Mr. Stark said. “We’ve been here for 45 years and we’ve been through a lot of blows and never had any major damage to homes. There’s probably more of a threat to homes on the bay in Aquebogue that are stick-built than to where we are.”

But, if need be, the town plans to coordinate with the Riverhead school district to use its buses to evacuate people and to use the high school and possibly the middle school as emergency shelters, Mr. Walter said.

Many Riverhead residents, particularly those in the Horton Avenue vicinity, are still recovering from flooding in March.

Could there be a repeat?

“Anything is possible, but that’s not being predicted,” Chief Hegermiller said. “There’s been no prediction of flooding so far.”

He said it appears the storm will hit during low tide, which will further reduce the chance of flooding.

On Wednesday, Hurricane Earl was about 725 miles southwest of Cape Hatteras, N.C., with top winds of about 125 miles per hour, and had been downgraded from a category 4 to a category 3 storm, according to The Weather Channel, which said it was moving northwest at 17 miles per hour. Most forecasts for Long Island predicted that rain and wind wouldn’t hit until Friday, and would continue Saturday.

The National Weather Service on Wednesday predicted that tropical storm conditions were possible on Long Island on Friday and Friday night, and showers also were likely.

Although the storm will likely come close to Long Island, experts initially predicted it would miss Montauk Point by more than 100 miles, although later reports said it will miss Montauk by 75 miles.

While the forecast has the storm missing Long Island, Mr. Walter stressed, “We have to prepare for the absolute worst case scenario.”

He said forecasts showed the storm moving closer to Long Island than originally predicted.

The Red Cross handles emergency sheltering for Riverhead Town, and has designated Riverhead High School and Middle School as possible shelters, the chief said. Mr. Walter noted that shelters cannot accommodate pets and said any residents who are evacuated should bring along some food and water.

Peconic Bay Medical Center president Andrew Mitchell said the hospital has brought in additional generators, including a 1.5 megawatt generator, and has designated certain areas of the facility for staff to sleep over if there’s an emergency. The hospital also received special permission to use the acute rehabilitation facility in the recently built Kanas Center as dormitory space during an emergency, Mr. Mitchell said.

The hospital also has brought in additional supplies and is assessing whether some employee vacations need to be rescheduled.

Riverhead Town has posted some information on its website about things residents should do to prepare for emergencies.

The direct link is http://www.riverheadli.com/emergency-prep.html.

That information deals with creating an emergency plan, preparing a disaster supply kit and paying attention to local weather forecasts. The kit should include things like a three-day supply of water, nonperishable foods, a battery-powered radio and rain gear, according to the site.

The town site also includes links to other agencies, such as the American Red Cross and state, county and federal emergency agencies.

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