Hurricane Irene has Long Island ‘in the crosshairs’

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Marinas were busy Thursday as people pulled their boats out of the water in anticipation of Hurricane Irene. This boat was spotted heading north on Tuthill Lane in Aquebogue Thursday afternoon.

From marinas to mobile home parks and along the roads in between, Riverheaders are scrambling to prepare for Hurricane Irene.

The storm was still in the Carribbean as of Thursday morning, pummeling the Bahamas, but it was expected to head north toward the North Carolina coast by nightfall. The current forecast track has Irene making landfall on Long Island Sunday evening, according to Bill Goodman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Upton.

“Right now Long Island is in the cross hairs,” he said.

When asked if  Suffolk County could still be spared from getting hit by Hurricane Irene, Mr. Goodman said most likely not.

“The escape hatch is closing,” he said.

If the hurricane stays over land and travels up through Virginia and New Jersey, it could weaken by the time it hits Long Island, he said. But the current forecast has the storm moving up over the Atlantic. The storm could be a category I, which means winds of 74 to 95 mph or even a category II, which means winds of 96 mph to 110 mph, when it arrives here, he said.

Riverhead Town Highway Superintendent George “Gio” Woodson said his crews are already preparing for Irene, making sure department vehicles are fueled up and storm drains are clear.

He said for town residents to be prepared for an abnormally high tide Sunday, which combined with the rain could mean severe flooding.

“With a certain amount of rain, anywhere can flood,” he said. “People living in low lying area, you may have to leave your homes.”

Mr. Woodson, who was a department worker when Hurricane Gloria hit the area in 1986, said it took two months to clear the debris from that storm, and that was with 47 employees. He also noted that today the number of Riverhead highway workers is down to 32, with several on disability.

He urged town residents to stock up on food and get any medications they may need before the storm hits.

Over at Griffing Hardware on West Main Street, Dave Averett said people are picking up gas cans, flashlights and batteries in bulk.

“People are definitely buying more than they normally would,” he said

Peconic Bay Medical Center CEO Andy Mitchell said the hospital has seven to 10 days worth of medical supplies stocked up, and that its three generators are in working order and two rental generators have been reserved.

Mobile homes are especially susceptible to high winds, and Riverhead is home to more  mobile home communities than any town on Long Island.

Staffers and residents at Glenwood Village, the town’s largest such community with 520 houses, already have an evacuation plan in place. It consists of different teams and block leaders and other methods to keep residents in touch with one another and park employees.

And if residents do stay put, management has a generator on hand to keep the recreation center electrified “in case of a power emergency,” explained a management office employee, Michelle, who said one resident who relies on an oxygen has already called the office with concerns.

“He could only recharge it for so long,” she said. “He called; he was worried.”

In the run-up to the last hurricane scare in the fall, the Glenwood Village’s 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 days before Hurricane Earl was expected to hit last September. “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.”

Hurricane Earl fizzled to nothing more than a rainstorm when it finally reached Long Island.

As for the boating industry, staffers at Larry’s Lighthouse Marina in Aquebogue were too busy to talk much on Thursday, as they were scrambling to pull boats out of Meetinghouse Creek.

“We’re crazy,” said marina employee Regina Smith. “We’re hauling out as much as we can.”

Riverhead Councilman George Gabrielsen, a farmer from Jamesport, said he was worried about the effects a Category I or II hurricane could have on the region’s agricultural industry.

Farmers could lose millions if winds reach over 60 mph, which could flatten crops, he said.

The forecast calls for sunny skies tomorrow and then clouds Saturday. Rain is predicted for Saturday afternoon with heavy rains associated with the hurricane expected for around midnight.

A country and western concert scheduled for the Peconic Riverfront this weekend has been cancelled due to the weather forecast, according to Riverhead Business Improvement District officials who organized the event.

The Jamesport Fire Department-sponsored “Sound to Bay” 10K run has not been cancelled, though organizers Thursday expressed doubt the race would go off.

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