Storm shows LI making progress in emergency response

Roads across Long Island were flooded Wednesday morning,

Roads across Long Island were flooded Wednesday morning, Aug. 13, 2014, by heavy rain that began overnight. The flooding snarled the morning commute and caused delays and cancellations on the Long Island Rail Road. (Credit: Newsday / Staff)‚Äč (August 13, 2014 11:15 AM)

Some of the lessons of superstorm Sandy were put to good use yesterday, as Nassau and Suffolk counties dealt with record-breaking rain.

For one, there was coordination among municipalities, volunteer fire departments and other agencies in communities hit hard by the storm.

For another, there appeared to be better communication.


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At 5:18 a.m. Wednesday, firefighters from North Babylon were the first to respond to a call about motorists stranded by floodwaters. "We were expecting maybe two or three cars," said Lt. Tim Harrington, who was on the first fire truck responding to the Southern State Parkway. "But when we got there, there had to be 40 or 50 cars. This was more drastic than what we usually see."

Harrington's unexpected find, like a falling domino, set off a series of events.

By 5:30 a.m., when Suffolk's emergency services office opened, firefighters and police already were rescuing drivers from vehicles, County Executive Steve Bellone said.

Hundreds of cars were abandoned along flooded streets and highways, Bellone said. At the Southern State, Harrington and other firefighters from the Babylon and Deer Park departments ferried motorists to the North Babylon Fire Department on Hale Road, where the Red Cross provided food.

Later, once floodwaters receded, the motorists were taken, by van, back to their vehicles. Those who could drove them away; motorists who couldn't had their vehicles towed.

Other firefighters and police officers throughout the morning rescued motorists on Sunrise Highway, the Southern State and other major thoroughfares -- reaching them by foot or with high-axle vehicles usually used for fighting brush fires.

Bellone and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said fire departments in both counties acquired the vehicles -- along with more inflatable rafts -- after Sandy and a series of dangerous brush fires in Suffolk.

"This was the first time we used the brushfire equipment for rain," Bellone said.

Rafts came in handy too: Suffolk police said they used one to rescue a family from their vehicle, Bellone said.

In Nassau, Mangano said he had ordered county storm drains cleared in advance of the storm, and the county's emergency coordinating office opened at 4 a.m.

But parts of Suffolk, especially the towns of Islip and Babylon, ended up being hardest hit by the storm.

"We've been through so much, with brush fires, Nemo, Sandy and everything else, that we've ended up getting training in real time," said Bellone, who late yesterday declared a state of emergency in the county. "Now, we know what to do, which calls to make and who we need to be coordinating with."

But Long Island, post Sandy, still has a ways to go.

Eric Alexander of Vision Long Island, which advocates for mixed-use development and other "smart growth" policies, said infrastructure, transportation and other systems need significant improvement to deal with major storms.

"The event shows the need to further strengthen primary evacuation routes ... to ensure that they are resilient to urban and flash flooding," Alexander said. "If this were an incident where a mass evacuation of some of Nassau and Suffolk's three million residents was necessary, impassable roads would have caused a disaster within the disaster."

He is, of course, correct.

Which means that the region, even with improved communication and coordination, needs to keep working.