Official fears 'monumental flooding' in Freeport

Streets are flooded at Ray Street and Guy Streets are flooded at Ray Street and Guy Lombardo Avenue in Freeport. (Oct. 29, 2012) Photo Credit: Howie Schnapp

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The early morning tidal surge brought heavy localized flooding to south Freeport Monday, the streets around Guy Lombardo Avenue and the Nautical Mile were rendered impassable by water halfway up fire hydrants.

It was the precursor to Hurricane Sandy. And, it was bad.

But officials fear the worst is yet to come with Sandy expected to lash Long Island with hurricane-force wind gusts Monday evening into Tuesday morning, the arrival at the most-inopportune moment -- when astronomical high tides are at their peak.

"We've been inundated with water all day," Freeport director of emergency management Richard Holdener told Newsday. "We're expecting monumental flooding."

Nassau Legis. Dave Denenberg Monday afternoon called on all Freeport residents who live south of Merrick Road to "evacuate now." The Nassau Community College shelter is the best option, he said.

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"Please move to higher ground and out of harm's way," Denenberg said.

On Sunday, Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick issued an order for residents living south of Merrick Road to evacuate by 1 p.m. But Holdener said with the nearest shelter at NCC it was not clear how many residents took heed -- and actually left.

He said "numerous people" had called the village Monday, asking for help evacuating their homes. The fire department responded with emergency equipment, Holdener said. He said volunteers also battled five separate house fires that left two of those firefighters injured.

Frank Rizzo, who runs a charter boat company in the village, said one of the injured firefighters was Dominic Albanese -- who works for him. Rizzo said Albanese was hurt when a resident jumped from a fence escaping a fire and landed on Albanese.

Rizzo said he did not know the extent of the injuries, but was checking on him at a hospital. "He's very well liked," Rizzo said. "He's going into the service in July."

Meanwhile, Freeport officials and residents tried to cope with the early morning water damage, knowing full well that it may only be a drop in the bucket compared to what remains in store.

The water level was estimated to be at least 3.5 feet above normal astronomical high tides during the morning surge, officials said. Estimates by the National Weather Service were that evening high tides could be anywhere from 6-to-11 feet above astronomical high tide norms -- and that the flood damage could be "major."

Areas bordering the Woodcleft Canal, adjacent to Freeport's Nautical Mile, are prone to flooding during even minor above-normal astronomical high tides, officials said.

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Stores near the intersection of Guy Lombardo and Atlantic Avenue -- the northern end of the heavy flooding -- remained open Monday morning.

Near his home, at the corner of Guy Lombardo and Ray Street, resident Angel Flores said he would wait out the storm until early afternoon before deciding whether to head for a relatives' home in north Freeport. Across the street, resident Troy Sop paddled down Guy Lombardo in a rowboat.

"They did that last year, too," Flores said, talking about Tropical Storm Irene.

Nevertheless, Sop said he doesn't fear Sandy.

He said he dug out his rowboat because there was little else to do in flooded Freeport. "We were bored," he said.

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Resident Linda McAndrews, who walked her dog Akira in water that nearly reached the dog's belly, said she wasn't worried either. "My house was built in 1893," McAndrews said. It has never flooded."

But Sam Kille, spokesman for the American Red Cross of Greater New York, cautioned: "This is a serious storm and, of course, people need to take it seriously. A lot of people tend to look at the eye of the storm, and they'll see that's headed for New Jersey and they'll think it won't be so bad here."

He said because of that prolonged winds will cause water to pile up in South Shore bays and in the Long Island Sound -- creating devastating high tides. "The worst part of the storm," he said, "is going to be tonight going into tomorrow. That's when it will be bad."

Holdener said Freeport officials expect the entire south end of Freeport will be impacted. "We just hope people heeded [our warnings]," he said.

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