Riverhead state of emergency begins Saturday morning

As Hurricane Irene nears, Riverhead Town has declared that a state of emergency will be in effect beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday.

The emergency declaration gives the town the authority to order mandatory evacuations for residents in low lying areas near water, although the town is currently only proposing non-mandatory evacuations for those residents and residents in mobile homes, Supervisor Sean Walter said Friday afternoon.

“We’re not going to force anyone from their homes,” he said.

The American Red Cross will open an emergency shelter open at Riverhead High School starting at 10 a.m. Saturday, Mr. Walter said, adding that residents should first seek to stay with a friend or relative before choosing to stay at the emergency shelter.

Suffolk County will open a pet-friendly shelter in the Woodland Building at the Eastern Campus of Suffolk County Community College, located at 121 Speonk-Riverhead Rd in Riverhead.

“The shelter is a last resort,” he said. “It will not be comfortable in there. The safest place for them to be in a home.”

Buses will be available to any mobile home residents who would prefer to go to the emergency shelter, Mr. Walter said.
Those seeking shelter should bring supplies with them, including medication, blankets, flashlights, snacks and water.

The state of emergency order will prohibit all but emergency vehicles from driving on roads in the town, and will give the town the ability to execute contracts with private businesses on an emergency basis, Mr. Walter said.

“People need to realize that during a storm event, once you have hurricane winds above 55 mph, emergency services are not able to respond because it’s not safe for them. So residents have to make that decision of where they are going to stay no later than [Saturday.],” he said.

Cars and their drivers are especially susceptible to projectiles in strong winds.

Mr. Walter, Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller and others were in storm planning meetings and on conference calls all day Friday with officials from Suffolk County, the town, the local fire departments, Peconic Bay Medical Center and the Riverhead School District to coordinate their efforts.

Irene is expected to bring tropical force winds by Saturday evening and hurricane force winds by Sunday morning. The eye of the storm is expected to pass over western Suffolk as a Category I hurricane, which has winds of between 73 and 95 mph, according to the National Weather Service’s latest notice.