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Thousands remain without power as tropical storm cleanup begins in Riverhead

A quick-moving storm left a trail of debris Tuesday as downed trees and power lines clogged roadways and caused thousands of North Fork residents to lose power.

The massive outages across Long Island were on a level not seen since Superstorm Sandy in 2012 as PSEG Long Island reported nearly 400,000 customers losing power — outages that will likely take days to fully restore.

Tropical Storm Isaias arrived in force Tuesday afternoon, and while the eye of the storm tracked west over New Jersey, resulting in little to no rain locally, strong wind gusts still wreaked havoc.

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The National Weather Service recorded a wind gust of 64 mph in Orient. Gusts of up to 78 mph were recorded at Farmingdale Airport, the highest mark in Suffolk County. Several other locations recorded gusts above 70 mph.

And after a delay in reporting, PSEG announced Tuesday night that the storm left more than 4,500 North Fork customers without power. It later upgraded that number to around 6,300, doubling the number for Riverhead Town, where just over 4,900 outages were reported as of Wednesday morning.

PSEG reported late Tuesday that “more than 2,000 line workers, tree trimmers, surveyors and other utility personnel are onsite to address outages.”

Riverhead Highway Superintendent George “Gio” Woodson said Wading River got hit particularly hard.

“I don’t know whether they had a mini-tornado in Wading River or what,” he said.

As crews were working to reopen a road, “all hell broke loose,” he said.

“They said trees just started falling all around them and they took cover,” he said. “They said it was unbelievable. Every tree just started breaking and falling and they just took cover.”

Mr. Woodson said Wednesday morning that the highway crews are waiting to connect with PSEG to begin removing trees that are entangled in wires. 

A highway worker suffered a foot injury at Laurel Court in Wading River after being hit by a falling tree, Mr. Woodson said.

“He’ll probably be out for a little bit,” Mr. Woodson said. “People don’t realize how dangerous it is out there for our employees.”

Riverhead Town police Chief David Hegermiller said flooding was not an issue during the storm.

“Not even downtown,” he said. “We hit it, I think, coming off the high tide. So I think the tide was going out, so that was good. I think we were well out of it by the next high tide, which was 2 o’clock this morning.”

As of Wednesday morning, Sound Avenue between Route 105 and Doctor’s Path remained closed. Other secondary roads were also closed, “but nothing that would impede traffic that much,” he said.

The chief estimated power would be restored across the town by Friday morning.

In Wading River, roads like Sunset Boulevard and Long Pond Road were shut through Wednesday morning due to hazardous situations.

“We have people on overtime to take care of the dangerous conditions,” Chief Hegermiller said. “Any dangerous condition still out there, we have staffed with personnel.”

While several traffic lights were down overnight Tuesday, they were back online by late Wednesday morning, Mr. Woodson said.

“We got it pretty bad out here, but not as bad as they got it up west,” he said. “People have to understand it takes time to get everything cleaned up.”

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Virtually all of Orient was without power as of 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. More than 15% of customers were without power in Southold and Riverhead hamlets, Greenport West and Calverton.

“Several roads are closed and we have about 125 trees that need to be removed,” Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said Wednesday morning. “We are coordinating with PSEG and have identified the top priorities.”

The priority, he said, is to remove all of the trees blocking or partially blocking roadways. 

“In many instances, the trees are entangled with power lines so we can’t get to work on these until PSEG gets there to cut the power to the lines and remove them,” he said.

The Southold Town Highway Department crews have been working on clearing roads “and haven’t stopped since the onset of the storm,” the supervisor said.

He added the fees for homeowners to bring brush to the landfill will continued to be waived.

PSEG cast some of the blame for its communication issues on Verizon. It said the power company is reliant on Verizon for its Internet and communications systems.

“Without reliable support from Verizon, our systems cannot perform as they should. PSEG Long Island is actively working with Verizon to address this issue, and PSEG and LIPA have asked the DPS for assistance.”

The outage map did not begin to show the outages across Riverhead and Southold until late Tuesday.

“There needs to be an analysis and understanding of what happened,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Wednesday. “Communications in a storm is critical and we need to understand what happened.”

PSEG said as of 11:30 a.m. Wednesday it had restored power to about 220,000 customers across Long Island, with 2,000 crews deployed to the region.

“They’re working hard overnight and they will be for the next couple of days to get that power turned back on,” Mr. Bellone said.

PSEG president and COO Daniel Eichhorn said in a statement: “We understand how critical it is to share accurate and timely information with our customers and we continue working diligently to fully resolve these issues.”