Fire Island residents are still coping with the effects of Tuesday's overnight storm. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports. Credit: Newsday/James Carbone

Suffolk officials assessing damage Thursday on Fire Island after this week's coastal storm said the weather system created two breaches on the barrier island already struggling with erosion — one at Robbins Rest and one in Fire Island Pines.

“We’re here at Ocean Beach on Fire Island, one of the many communities on Fire Island that was hit hard by the storm, a storm that is almost equal to the ravages of Sandy,” said Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine as he and other officials examined the damage. 

Four Suffolk towns — Babylon, Islip, Brookhaven and Southampton — and the county "have declared emergencies," Romaine said, adding he's also urging the state to declare an emergency in order for Suffolk to be eligible for federal disaster aid. 

“We’re hoping the state will join us. We’re hoping we can qualify for federal aid so we can help communities like Ocean Beach rebuild after the devastation,” Romaine said.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Suffolk officials assessing damage on Fire Island after this week's coastal storm said the weather system created two breaches on the barrier island already struggling with erosion.
  • Ocean Beach residents navigated flooded streets on Thursday after the Tuesday overnight storm that local officials said hit some areas of Long Island harder than any storm since Superstorm Sandy.
  • County Executive Ed Romaine, while surveying the village, expressed concern for the stability of Fire Island, which has suffered severe erosion in recent months.

Water flooded the streets in Ocean Beach in the western part of the island Thursday morning as residents and business owners surveyed the damage after a storm that local and county officials said hit some areas of Long Island harder than any storm since Superstorm Sandy.

Travis D’Arienzo, owner of Dockside Pizza in Ocean Beach, said there was around 4 to 5 inches of flooding inside the storefront after the storm. Although he has flood insurance, "the floors are definitely ruined," he said. 

Flooding outside Ocean Beach's Our Lady of the Magnificat Catholic...

Flooding outside Ocean Beach's Our Lady of the Magnificat Catholic Church on Fire Island seen on Thursday. Credit: James Carbone

Lauren Chenault, 31, has lived in Ocean Beach year-round for about seven years. She’s never seen flooding like what she saw this week.

“On the houses, it was measuring like 13, 14 inches,” she said Thursday afternoon, as she trekked past a flooded churchyard with her 3-year-old daughter. “That was very out of the ordinary.”

The high water levels caused the Fire Island School District to declare a “flood day” on Wednesday, something that hasn’t happened in recent memory, Superintendent Travis Davey said. 

"It wasn’t quite as bad as Sandy, but as everyone can see here, we’re pretty inundated with water," said Ocean Beach Mayor James Mallott, adding that many homes and businesses were flooded. “We need federal aid here in Ocean Beach and on all Fire Island and on the whole South Shore.”

He reminded residents to wear boots and be careful in the water.

“Don’t come out here with no shoes or socks on. We don’t know what’s in this water, you don’t know what’s in this water. It’s a very, very dangerous situation," he said.

A breach is an open channel formed between the ocean and the bay during a storm that remains after the storm passes, said Charles Flagg, a Stony Brook University professor whose research encompasses climate change effects on coastal systems.

An overwash is similar, he said, in that it occurs during a storm but the water flow disappears with the storm. A place susceptible to multiple overwashes could develop into a breach.

A breach's impact "on the rest of the mainland depends on where they are, and how big they are," he said.

Mallott said the village is still working to determine just how much damage the storm caused.

Romaine expressed concern for the stability of Fire Island, which suffered severe erosion in recent months.

“We are very concerned, because there is no plan for the Army Corps to provide beach nourishment,” he said. “This is an emergency situation.

“We're very concerned about the collapse of the dune system, particularly east of where we are, because this is a barrier island,” Romaine added. “If it's not a barrier, we suffer from tremendous flooding on the main Island ... We need federal and state aid to help these people.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul spoke with Romaine Thursday morning and dispatched a team from the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services to Suffolk to help assess storm damage.

Thursday evening, Hochul released a letter asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which had been evaluating damage from recent storms to Fire Island, to expedite a state request for rehabilitation for three related coastline resiliency projects impacted by Tuesday's weather and previous storms.

"Without this place, that place on Bay Shore and all of Long Island will be nothing, underwater," Atlantique resident Andrew Athing said, standing on a flat stretch of beach that had lost its dunes. 

"Climate change seems to be booked in, so this is going to go on," Flagg said. "Sea level is rising at about 5 millimeters a year around here. That's a lot. It doesn't sound like much, but after some period of time, it matters."

With Yancey Roy

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