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Official: Long Beach 'extremely vulnerable' to nor'easter

Sand is moved from West Broadway in Long

Sand is moved from West Broadway in Long Beach ahead of a nor'easter. (Nov. 7, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

A wintry mix of snow and rain fell from gray skies over Long Beach Wednesday, as emergency crews pushed piles of sand against the boardwalk and ocean-facing streets -- hoping to minimize the impact of a nor'easter threatening to again pummel neighborhoods ravaged by superstorm Sandy.

Streets were nearly empty of people, but lined with canyons of former household goods transformed into debris last week by Sandy. Officials worried the debris could become projectiles in the nor'easter forecasters said is packing storm surges, damaging waves and wind gusts of up to 60 mph.

"We're doing the best with the resources we have, but Long Beach remains extremely vulnerable after Sandy," said Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman, who called on residents to evacuate the city during the nor'easter. Long Beach had been under a mandatory evacuation for Sandy, but police had informally allowed some residents to return, officials said.

Schnirman said Wednesday workers were building "a great wall of sand" along the oceanfront, trying to reinforce and protect areas where water overwashed the beach and boardwalk, flooding streets and neighborhoods during the storm last week.

And it isn't just the ocean side of Long Beach officials are concerned about. There's fear that protective measures on the bay side, along Reynolds Channel, also were damaged by Sandy -- leaving both sides of the barrier island vulnerable to the unnamed nor'easter.

Officials expect a storm surge that could measure 5 feet at high tide at 1:51 a.m. Thursday.

They are also fearful that clean up and restoration work so far completed -- getting the storm-damaged sewer system back up and running, getting water back to residents, the return of electrical service -- could be undone as this latest storm hits Long Island.

To that end, Schnirman said efforts of sanitation truck and debris removal crews were accelerated and officials were advising residents to move debris back into their homes or to top them with sandbags in an effort to cut down on windblown and water-launched projectiles.

Still, one look around streets saw piles of refuse, in some places more than 6 feet high, containing items including couches, chairs, portable toilets, toys, plastic tubs, broken and damaged tools, and appliances such as washing machines, clothes dryers and refrigerators.

A strict curfew remains in place, with Long Beach police, Nassau County police, state police and the National Guard enforcing the 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. ban.

Schnirman told Newsday that the curfew "is really working," helping the city maintain order.

In addition to keeping people off the streets overnight, FEMA closed its office at the ice rink Wednesday.

Temporary distribution of food and water also has been suspended at the East school, West school and Lindell.

Those services will resume after the latest storm passes, Schnirman said. He estimated about 60 percent of all Long Beach residents never left the city during superstorm Sandy, but said many should consider leaving, if only for Wednesday and Thursday, because of this storm.

Schnirman said the city has put together what it is calling the Second Emergency Response Plan to deal with this storm and said that, in addition to the accelerated trash pickup and moving of sand to form ocean-facing barriers, officials also have a contingency plan to evacuate first responders and city employees, if necessary.

But the biggest fear, Schnirman said, is this storm could undo some of the restoration work already completed.

The water plant and sewer plant are both on the bay side and officials fear they could again be knocked out by abnormally high storm surge.

Power has been restored to neighborhoods stretching from Park Avenue to Broadway between Roosevelt Boulevard and Magnolia and from Washington Boulevard to Lindell, and the fear is those areas may again be plunged into darkness by the nor'easter.

One resident, Sylvester Jones, 63, said he has stayed in his second-floor apartment in a building on Neptune Boulevard near Shore Road because he feels safe and protected.

He was out, having walked to a coffee shop on Park Avenue, only to find it closed.

He said he'd ventured by bus to the makeshift shelter at Nassau Community College just to shower. His car disappeared in the flood during Sandy.

He found it, water-damaged and undrivable, three blocks from where he'd left it after Sandy passed, he said.

"I was really excited this morning when I saw that the garbage truck pulled up and I saw them take away some of the debris I'd helped my neighbors pull out from their apartment two days ago," Jones said. "I'm glad they did that, because it looks like it's going to be a bad storm tonight.

"You don't want things flying around in the air, and if they can't pick up the debris, that's what's going to happen."

Out on the street, you could hear the wind.

The only good thing about that was it had blown away the nauseating smell of rotting food that had overwhelmed the ocean air in some places.

With Patrick Whittle

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