In the weeks after superstorm Sandy, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano became the public face of the county's recovery efforts. In this story, Mangano recalls his experiences during the worst local natural disaster in decades. Tomorrow: Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.
Less than an hour before superstorm Sandy made landfall, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano made a final trip to the Long Beach boardwalk to huddle with his emergency managers.
Wind gusts in excess of 60 mph were scattering mounds of sand miles inland and sending the Atlantic Ocean flooding through the city's streets.
He and his team of aides confronted destruction at practically every turn as they traveled the county on Oct. 29, and in the following weeks.
A massive tree collapsed 100 feet in front of his car in Syosset. In Long Beach, he viewed a mile-long stretch of shattered store fronts and a car that had caught fire because its heated seats had gotten wet. A portion of a 50-foot boat hung off a second-floor deck in Merrick. In a firehouse in Meadowmere, residents huddled on the second floor, trying to stay warm.
"I saw so many devastating, traumatic visions that it's hard to talk about," Mangano said in an interview. "The emotional toll it took on people: baby albums, wedding albums scattered in the streets; people's memories and heirlooms; their whole lives spread out throughout the neighborhood. It's very traumatic and very lasting."
"All these visions, I can still see them all," he said.
Mangano said he slept just 56 minutes in the first two days after the storm, and three to four hours a night after that. He worked 18- to 20-hour days, and didn't see his wife for days.
Political experts said Mangano followed the crisis management script: remain visible, empathic and on top of the issues.
"Storms are a great opportunity to look really good or really bad," said Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia political consultant who works primarily for Republicans. "And the county executive did really well by being omnipresent and keeping the public informed."
Carl Figliola, a professor of health care and public administration at LIU Post in Brookville, said Mangano was limited in what he could accomplish because of Nassau's decentralized government in which towns, villages and individual cities have their own management structures.
The Nassau and Suffolk county executives also have no direct oversight over the Long Island Power Authority. At a Nov. 8 news conference, Mangano called on the U.S. military to take over power restoration. The military never came, and power was restored to most Nassau residents shortly thereafter.
"He performed as well as he could be expected to," Figliola said. "He has the bully pulpit but can't deliver the knockout blow."
Others said the county could have done more to assist distressed residents.
Legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said Nassau waited too long to implement odd-even gasoline rationing. Nassau, Suffolk and New York City adopted the system on Nov. 9 -- nearly a week after New Jersey ordered the change.
"I would have liked to have seen the gas rationing start sooner," Abrahams said. "I think everyone underestimated the gas problems."
Mangano defended the timing of gas rationing, noting that in the period after the storm many residents had to visit gas stations daily for fuel for generators.
"Hindsight is always 20-20, and the exact timing of when it should have been done will always be debatable," he said. "We erred on the side of public safety by allowing residents to get in there every day to fill their red cans."
Mangano did concede some logistical errors.
The county's public safety radio system did not work in some areas, including Hewlett Harbor and Brookville. Village officials said they attempted to use the radios to reach emergency management officials for assistance after phone lines went down.
"That was our last hope," said Brookville Mayor Caroline Bazzini. "So, I turned to my staff and said 'We are on our own. No one is going to help us.' "
The administration will conduct an examination to determine why the radio system failed, Mangano said.
After the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant flooded with nine feet of water, two pipes ruptured under the storm pressure, sending raw sewage flowing into homes in Baldwin and East Rockaway. For several weeks, the plant released some 65 million gallons a day of partially treated sludge into Reynolds Channel, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean.
Mangano said equipment provided by states throughout the East Coast enabled officials to restore the plant to partial operation more quickly than engineers had anticipated.
"We did the best we can for the people of Nassau County under the circumstances that confronted our citizens," Mangano said of his overall performance during Sandy.
Mangano and other county officials began preparing five days before the storm hit.
He met with state and local advisers, had essential equipment moved into place and ordered the evacuation of residents living in flood or storm surge zones.
Mangano helped organize about 1,000 county, state and federal officials, many of whom slept in shifts in offices and hallways at the county's Office of Emergency Management in Bethpage.
Mangano described it all as an "emotionally draining experience," particularly after a difficult month in which Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt suffered a fatal heart attack in his office and two county cops were killed in the line of duty.
But Mangano also remembers encountering neighbors helping neighbors to clean up their damaged homes, residents feeding strangers and firehouses that opened for entire neighborhoods where people needed food, sleep and heat.
"To see the despair and shock in peoples' faces, it was emotionally draining," he said. "But it was also encouraging because you saw neighbors helping neighbors. People began to rebuild on their own and reclaim their homes. The amount of people that did all that they could to stay with their home was amazing."