Irene recap: Some were fearing the worst

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | Chuck Schneider of Riverhead was the only homeowner whose house was hit by a fallen tree in the storm. The 89-year-old said there was no damage to the structure.

Don’t think Irene lived up to all the hype?

Tell that to 89-year-old Chuck Schneider, who had not one but two trees blown onto his Hallock Street house in Riverhead by the tropical storm’s forceful winds. He heard the first one snap at 4 a.m. Sunday and the second at 7 a.m., but neither noise was enough to get him out of bed.

He noticed the downed trunks in the front yard later that day.

“I expected any troubles to happen in the front of the house,” said Mr. Schneider, who has lived in the house for 60 years. “But If you look at the root system [of the fallen trees] you can see why.”

The trees took out power lines, a street lamp and a fence, though the house wasn’t seriously damaged.

But as many across town concluded after the storm that Irene could have been much worse.

In the run-up to the storm, many heeded the warnings of local weather forecasters and flocked to places like Griffing Hardware on West Main Street to pick up gas cans, D batteries and flashlights. The supermarket shelves that usually contain bottled water were bare and gas stations throughout the area ran out of fuel.

Fears of flooding were heightened because abnormally high tides were expected at the same time the hurricane was predicted to make landfall, possibly as a powerful Category 1 or even 2 storm. Southampton and Riverhead town residents in low-lying coastal areas and those living in unstrapped mobile homes were ordered to leave Saturday morning. Some 300 people hunkered down at the town’s shelter at Riverhead High School.

But when the storm made landfall over North Carolina and continued traveling up the coast, it became clear Irene might not pack the punch she was originally expected to deliver.

“From the time it was approaching [from North Carolina], it was on a slow, weakening trend,” said National Weather Service meteorologist David Stark.

Rain was heavier on the west side of the storm, which dumped eight to 10 inches of water on parts of New Jersey, he said. The East End, which received as little as one to two inches of rain in some parts, was spared the storm’s brunt.

“The further west you went on Long Island, the impact was felt a lot more,” Mr. Stark said, adding that it was difficult to pinpoint which Long Island town or hamlet sustained the worst damage.

Irene made landfall over Coney Island about 9 a.m. and traveled east as a tropical storm. The worst had passed on the East End well before noon and no serious injuries were reported on the North Fork.

“In terms of forecast, hurricanes are really difficult to predict,” Mr. Stark said.

Some may have criticized the media for over-hyping Irene, but there is another industry that benefits when people prep for the worst.

Kevin McKillop, owner of Riverhead Beverage, said business always picks up before a storm as people gather the essentials. He stocked up on bottled water and had extra staff to handle the increased demand.

Customers came in for “beer, soda, water, ice, a little bit of everything,” he said. “I think there were quite a few hurricane parties.”
That’s not to say Irene didn’t do any damage. Nearly every street in Riverhead had debris strewn across it during and after the storm, and thousands of town residents remained without power days later. The Long Island Power Authority said power should be restored to 90 percent of its customers by Friday.

To help clean up the mess, Riverhead Town announced Monday that it will offer extended hours into September at the municipal landfill for residents to drop off loose yard waste at their convenience. The yard waste facility at the Youngs Avenue landfill in Calverton will be open until Sept. 5 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and residents and landscapers will be able to dump there without a permit. All waste should be loose, not in plastic bags. Normal hours will resume Sept. 6.

“We are making it as easy as we can for people to get their property back to normal,” Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said in a statement.

Aside from the extended landfill hours, Maggio Sanitation, the town’s contracted trash pickup company, will pick up leaves and bundled branches on the second weekly garbage collection day, Mr. Walter said. The bundles should weigh no more than 50 pounds each and not exceed four feet in length, he said, and the leaves should be in storage containers or paper bags.

Town beaches, closed since noon Friday, remained closed until Wednesday.

“With a bit of patience and the hard work of many, we will get Riverhead running again soon,” Mr. Walter said.

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