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Sandy creates breaches across Fire Island

The ocean batters away at the beach near

The ocean batters away at the beach near Seaview on Fire Island. (Oct. 29, 2012) Credit: Lori Mattiasen

Sandy punched channels across Fire Island, allowing bay and sea to mingle, but it will take time and more tide cycles to determine if any of the breaches are permanent.

Fire Island National Seashore Superintendent Chris Soller said Tuesday there were several breaches on the island's far east end, including one so deep it could become an inlet. He predicted "dramatic changes" to the island's geography if this happens.

"Moriches Inlet is about twice as wide as it normally is," he said. "The next 48 hours are going to tell the story as we have several more high tides."

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Chris Gardner said he knew of one confirmed breach west of Moriches Inlet at Smith Point County Park. He said local officials are trying to repair that breach, but may call on the Corps for help if they're unable to do so.

Gardner said there were also "two over-washes or unconfirmed breaches" at Cupsogue County Park and in the Fire Island National Seashore area. "We have not been able to get boots on the ground yet," Gardner said. "We'll be working to do that as soon as it's feasible and safe."

The reshaping of Fire Island, where at least a dozen homes were reportedly destroyed and some washed out to sea, is the most vivid example of Sandy's impact on the Long Island coast, an impact that began to slowly come into focus Tuesday as stormwaters receded. Officials expect to learn more over the next several days.

Suffolk County fire and emergency services commissioner Joe Williams said he saw an aerial surveillance video of Fire Island taken by police.

"It looked like most of the beaches are gone," Williams said. "The dunes are gone."

In Southampton, Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi said Dune Road was overwashed in several spots, though there were no apparent breaches. Along the portion of Dune Road that runs from Southampton to Quogue, there is 2 to 6 feet of sand because the dunes were pushed back and flattened, Nuzzi said.

He said the southern shore in the area was badly eroded, with few to no dunes left near Shinnecock Inlet.

In nearby Riverhead, the story was similar. "Beaches on the north shore of Wading River are gone," said Town Supervisor Sean Walter. "They should come back in the spring as part of a natural cycle, but Sandy hit it pretty hard."

Babylon chief of staff Ron Kluesner, a Gilgo resident, said Ocean Parkway was blocked with debris, and significant beach erosion is likely. "The dunes are gone at Gilgo," he said. "The ocean was right up to the parkway at high tide."

George Gorman, deputy regional director of the New York State parks system, said two lanes of the roadway south of the water tower at Robert Moses State Park had collapsed into the ocean. The park's beachfront was heavily eroded, he said, and Jones Beach Theater remained flooded Tuesday.

The story was similar at other parks, Gorman said, and sections of the eastbound lanes of Ocean Parkway between Jones Beach and Captree State Park appeared to have collapsed. "It's hard to tell the condition because it was covered with so much sand and debris," Gorman said.

The shoreline impact of the storm's massive tidal surge has been mammoth.

"This is probably the worst one on my list in the extent of damage," said Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, who is 63 and has lived in town all his life. "It's overwhelming. It's absolutely devastating."

He said the entire south shore of the town, from Massapequa to the town's border with Seaford, saw severe flooding, as did Bayville on the north shore. "For the first time ever, we've had to have town personnel perform search and rescue missions to take people to higher ground," he said.

In the village of Mastic Beach on Brookhaven's south shore, the air reeked of oil, a result of tanks that flooded as storm surge from Narrow Bay inundated area houses. In Long Beach, sewer systems were overwhelmed and officials were bringing in portable toilets for city residents.

The storm tides, which are measured by adding high tide and storm surge heights, that are responsible for the damage were enormous, according to the National Weather Service.

Monday night, when the surge was at its height, a storm tide of more than 10 feet was recorded at Freeport, nearly 2 feet higher than the record set last year during Tropical Storm Irene, the service reported. Kings Point saw a storm tide of over 14 feet, third highest of all time, with the record being nearly 17 feet during the 1938 Long Island Express hurricane.

And at Montauk, a storm tide of over 7 feet was reached, the second highest ever recorded, the highest being over 8 feet during Hurricane Carol in 1954.

The U.S. Coast Guard Tuesday was doing aerial surveillance of the coast, as well as sending teams to do assessments on the ground, to better gauge Sandy's impact. The agency expected to have findings from the work Wednesday.

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