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Long IslandTowns

Full plates for many emergency workers

The smell of sauerkraut on Monday filled the underground bunker where officials in Suffolk County have been toiling round the clock since Irene threatened Long Island.

Life in the windowless Suffolk County Emergency Operations Center pulsed before and after the tropical storm struck. Workers coordinated evacuations. They monitored forecasts. They made sure shelters were stocked with cots and food and water. They dispatched buses to ferry the displaced to the shelters. They ensured critical-care facilities on the brink of blackout had electricity.

And more.

“It’s the job we do,” said Joseph F. Williams, commissioner of the Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services. “We slept here the first couple days — the little bit [of sleep] we got.”

The menu provided by the county jail Monday included hot dogs, potatoes and the sauerkraut. To some, it was dinner. To others, breakfast.

For many of the multijurisdictional, makeshift workforce from the federal, state, town and county agencies, the bunker became home. Some slept with pillows and sleeping bags they brought with them. One disaster-recovery staffer slept in his truck.

In a darkened room next to the kitchen was a row of thin, pale-blue mattresses on loan from the county probation department. It was a break room for fatigued emergency workers to get a bit of shut-eye before returning to work.

Monday afternoon, two workers went into the dark room and got into two beds.

“Good night,” one said to the other.

It was 2 p.m.


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