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East End crews struggle to keep up with rainfall

Severe flooding of over a foot of water

Severe flooding of over a foot of water covers Middle Road in Riverhead Wednesday morning. (March 31, 2010) Credit: James Carbone

Hundreds of Riverhead residents called the highway department to complain about flooding Tuesday as roads turned into ponds and basements filled up.

Highway workers were overwhelmed amid the rainiest March on record. Six inches of rain had fallen in Baiting Hollow by around noon, the National Weather Service said.

"We only have eight pumps, not that it makes any difference," said Riverhead Highway Superintendent George Woodson.

"When you get six inches of rain since yesterday, there's nothing you can do. Every town is flooding out about now. The recharge basins are all full. We're doing the best we can."

His worst problem was on Roanoke Avenue, where a crater big enough to swallow a car had opened. Woodson estimated it was five feet wide and 10 feet deep. Rain pouring off a field had undermined the road.

There were many smaller puddles on roads in Riverhead, and barriers were put up to keep people from driving through them.

But "people just move them and drive through. They're crazy," Woodson said.

Sumps will take weeks to drain because the ground is saturated, he said.

In the Village of Greenport, the heavy rainfall was too much for the sewage system.

The village put out a public service announcement Tuesday to local radio stations asking people to "limit their use of the sewer system as much as possible due to the inordinate amount of rain and rainwater runoff. The system is literally saturated."

Village officials said they were concerned that sewage could back up.

In Southampton, parts of Dune Road were impassible, but few of the mostly summer rentals were occupied. The road runs along the Atlantic Ocean to the Shinnecock Canal.

East Hampton Highway Superintendent Scott King said he has not seen rain this heavy in at least 10 years.

"I've never seen so much water come out of the farm fields," he said.

A Montauk substation used by the highway department was in a foot of standing water, and an earthen lane on Harness Lane - just north of East Hampton Village - gave way and led to serious flooding.

When the rain ends, King will be left with potholes to fill, roads whose curbs have been washed away and drainage systems to clean out.

"I bet we'll be cleaning out the rest of this week and part of the next," he said.

Much of East Hampton is relatively flat, and because of local opposition and the high cost of land, there are few sumps. Flooded basements were an inevitable consequence.

King said a former highway superintendent often said: "If you build a house in a hole, you better like the alligators."

Westhampton Beach Mayor Conrad Teller also spent the morning checking out flooding and said that his village was in pretty good shape.

"I even went down Dune Road to the end of our [village] line. It started to get deep in one spot," he said.

Farmers were not seriously harmed by the rain because almost none of them have planted yet. The ground is still too cold for seeds to germinate, said Mark Zaweski, president of the Long Island Farm Bureau.

"This might delay early plantings a bit," Zaweski said. "If you get the sun and a breeze, the ground sets up pretty fast."

A few farmers have started early corn, but those seedlings are under plastic, which warms the ground and also protects them from heavy rain, he said.

If the weather was right, fields could be ready for planting in about a week, he said.


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