As summer swings into the heart of Atlantic hurricane season, Long Island officials are checking backup generators, drilling emergency responders and keeping a wary eye on faraway storms, such as Hurricane Bill, that could spell disaster if they made landfall here.
Local officials began seriously tracking Bill late last week - "before it was even named Bill," said Greg Caronia, Nassau's deputy commissioner for emergency management. "We watch every tropical depression as it begins right off the coast of Africa."
Monday, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Hurricane Bill was less than 1,000 miles east of the Lesser Antilles in the Eastern Caribbean, chugging west and north at 16 miles per hour.
"Bill could be a major hurricane, a Category 3 or higher, by Wednesday," said John Cangialosi, a hurricane specialist with the National Hurricane Center in Miami. The storm is expected to curve north and could reach Bermuda by the weekend, he said.
On Long Island, preparation for hurricane season began months ago, as county and town governments worked to coordinate shelter and evacuation plans with relief agencies and local volunteers.
"We talked with hospitals, tested our communications equipments, made sure the emergency operations center is up and running," said John Searing, Suffolk's deputy commissioner for fire, rescue and emergency services.
Monday, the U.S. Army Corps evaluated power needs at 30 key facilities in Suffolk, including hospitals and Brookhaven National Laboratories.
Long Island Power Authority president and chief executive Kevin Law said the utility was trimming trees to reduce falling branches that knock down power lines and had made improvements in flood-prone areas to prevent water from getting into transmission lines.
Officials urged residents to stockpile supplies of food, water and medications. Most Long Islanders would likely be on their own for at least five days after a hurricane because shelters cannot house and feed the estimated 625,000 residents who live in vulnerable areas.
Huntington Town Supervisor Frank P. Petrone is hosting a session today for residents on storm preparation.
"Now is the time you should begin to prepare," said Petrone, a regional director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency when Hurricane Gloria landed on Long Island in 1985.
The Suffolk County chapter of the American Red Cross has arranged with some local catering companies to supply provisions to shelters in case a catastrophic storm cuts Long Island off from the mainland. "We've already got two or three agreements, but we need to get more," said Rebecca Arthurs, the chapter's director of emergency services.
- With Mitchell Freedman and Deborah S. Morris