Riverhead Town officials assessing Sandy’s aftermath

Hurricane Sandy, Aquebogue, Jamesport
MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | Erosion and downed trees at the end of Pine Avenue in Aquebogue, where residents say waters rose higher than in recent memory.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said Tuesday he wants to suspend building fees for any storm-related repair work.

The town was in the process of devising a method by which to notify homeowners of this policy.

“I want to get that word out to residents, that the building department is not your obstacle and we will do whatever we can to help you,” Mr. Walter said.

The supervisor met with department heads Tuesday afternoon in Riverhead Town Hall to assess the damage from the storm and devise a plan to handle it.

The town is doing an inventory of damages to town property in hopes of being reimbursed.

The storm left the entire Riverfront parking lot in downtown Riverhead under  water Monday afternoon and night, and had areas in South Jamesport under water up to the railroad bridge, said Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller.

The chief said most of the areas south of Peconic Bay Boulevard were flooded.

The high waters had receded in most areas by Tuesday morning, although some areas, like parts of Peconic Bay Boulevard, still were flooded the following day.

Sandy also left more than 11,000 Riverhead Town residents and more than 940,000 Suffolk County residents without power Tuesday.

Winds from Sandy, which reached 90 mph in some areas, also broke the locally famous Riverhead Raceway Indian statue in half.

Despite this, officials says Sandy didn’t turn out as bad as they anticipated.

“We’re in better shape than we were with Hurricane Irene,” Chief Hegermiller said, referring to the hurricane that struck Long Island last year.

He said the impact of the Sandy was more flood-related than wind-related.

In Wading River, “90 percent of the homes on Creek Road were underwater” and there was erosion to beaches and bluffs along the Long Island Sound, including two homes on Lewin Drive that lost about 20 feet of bluff, and are now only about 20 feet from the bluff, said Mr. Walter, a Wading River resident.

A shelter set up at Riverhead High School had 375 people in it at the height of the storm on Monday, but by Tuesday morning, there were less than 20, officials said.

The town senior center made 2,100 meals in 36 hours for the people in the shelter, Mr. Walter said.

“The senior center was amazing,” he said Tuesday, adding the ttown hopes to get everybody out of the shelter on Tuesday so school can open on Wednesday.

The Suffolk Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also operated a pet shelter at Suffolk Community College in Northampton which had about 19 animals and 44 pet owners staying there, officials said.

The American Red Cross, which ran the shelter during Hurricane Irene last year, brought mostly snacks this year, and it was their cots and equipment that was used at the shelter.

Originally, Riverhead High School was not planned to be a shelter for this storm.

Riverhead Beverage donated 40 cases of water, and Paster Jerry Halpin of North Shore Christian Church on Kroemer Avenue brought volunteers and additional food, Mr. Walter said.

The Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance was busy with calls and with helping out at the evacuation center, and the Riverhead Fire Department also was kept busy with calls, including one in which their brush truck got stuck while answering a call on Overlook Drive in Aquebogue, officials said.

“Where we we be without these volunteers?” Councilman John Dunleavy asked.

Mr. Dunleavy also expressed disappointment with people who didn’t heed evacuation notices who could have jeopardized the safety of volunteers who had to come rescue them later.

“These people don’t realize they’re putting volunteers at risk,” Mr. Dunleavy said.

One man reportedly tried to climb a tree to remove a downed wire from it, and others were seen walking in water near Iron Pier beach while power lines swayed above them in high winds, officials said.

“If those lines came down, they were sardines,” said town engineer Ken Testa, who witnessed the incident.

Mr. Walter said a driver on Iron Pier beach got stuck on a log in mud there, when a good Samaritan stopped to help him.

Once the driver got traction, “the moron in the truck” floored his gas pedal in reverse, and nearly ran over the man who helped him, he said.

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