Homes cut off when waters breach road
As the howling gusts and rain squalls from Sandy walloped the region Monday, many Long Islanders came to quickly realize that this was a storm unlike any other they had seen.
"We had 13-foot waves coming over our deck," said Joseph Tilleli, an Asharoken resident who was evacuating. "This is bad. An historic event."
Ray Mahdesian, the Asharoken police chief, and his 11-member force are experts of sorts after enduring numerous storms over the years that have hit the precariously situated coastal community on Long Island Sound. He said about a dozen homes on Duck Island were cut off as harbor waters breached Duck Island Road to meet Northport Bay.
From the tiny village hall that also serves as the police department, he advised residents to evacuate and told those who didn't to stay put. He ordered Asharoken Avenue closed because of flooding and helped residents who were stranded.
"When the splash from the sea gets up to the top of the telephone pole on Asharoken Avenue," Mahdesian said, "when those waves come over and crash down over the road, you better know what to do. And we do."
Police save 5 people, can't reach 9
Suffolk County officials made a final effort Monday afternoon to evacuate remaining Fire Island residents who ignored an order to get out by 2 p.m. Sunday. County Executive Steve Bellone said five additional people were rescued, but nine couldn't be reached.
"This is an example of why, when mandatory evacuations are ordered, people need to heed that order," Bellone said at a news conference."
During the process, Suffolk police officers had to abandon an SUV. "Apparently the water picked the car up and turned the vehicle over," said county Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services Commissioner Joe Williams. The rescue effort was called off.
"There is no way we can go back to get them in time," he said. " . . . We looked at coming back by land, we looked at coming back by water and even coming back by helicopters. It is unsafe for all three," Williams said.
Three families threatened by rising floodwaters were evacuated by Ocean Beach police to the Woodhull School, the highest spot in the Fire Island village, police Chief George Hesse said. At Midway, in the center of Ocean Beach, water was about thigh high by Monday afternoon.
"I'm here 20 years. I've never seen the water that deep before," Hesse said.
Hesse noted that the state had sent an urban search-and-rescue team to Fire Island to evacuate people, but said Ocean Beach is cut off from other Fire Island communities such as Kismet, Saltaire and Fair Harbor because sand roads separate Ocean Beach from them. Those roads are washed out. "There's no way anybody is going to get to us," he said.
About 15 to 20 people remained in the village and they plan to stay, he said.
"Whoever is here is here."
Both the village fire department and police station have flooded. Police staff relocated to Hesse's apartment, which is about 6 feet off the ground.
No riding out the storm this time
Many others who had ridden out past storms at home did not throw caution to these winds.
"We never left before," said Bob Brittan, 77, a clammer from Lindenhurst who drove with his wife, Carol, 74, a receptionist, past a firefighters' checkpoint where South Wellwood Avenue flooded out south of Montauk Highway.
The Brittans' house is on the water. "We lived here 40 years, through three bad ones, and this is the worst," he said.
There were 6 inches of water in their house when they left around noon, while Sandy's fury was still building.
"We're going to start all over again," Carol Brittan said.
Evacuation a first for some Long Islanders
Even before the brunt of the storm struck, Long Islanders realized this one would be different.
On Island Channel Road in Wantagh, ducks were swimming in the road, as Anthony DiMonda and his sister Danielle prepared to evacuate for the first time in their lives.
DiMonda, 39, a New York City firefighter who has lived on the canal-lined street all his life, said he had never seen the water so high.
"And right now it's low tide," he said, after walking across the street in his flip-flops to help his sister, a Suffolk police officer, sandbag her garage.
She was headed to East Meadow and he was going to Massapequa, "but north of Sunrise" highway to avoid waters.
Lessons from Irene help hotel prepare
The staff of the upscale Allegria Hotel in Long Beach learned its lessons from Tropical Storm Irene last year, when the lobby and garage were under water from storm surge.
For Sandy, hotel general manager Nasser Samman moved the reception desk to the second floor and sealed off the garage. He used plywood and sandbags to protect the lobby area, which is below street level.
Samman ordered 300 flashlights for guests and employees to use should power be lost. The kitchen is also amply stocked, he said.
"We learned lessons from last year," Samman said. "We had a contingency plan. . . . Our first priority is the safety of our customers and employees."
Some, like surfer Joe McGee, of Long Beach, went to see for themselves how much of a punch the storm packed.
"I had to see this," said McGee, 22, pointing to the waves crashing over the jetties at about 7:30 a.m. "I'd love to be out there. Look at the waves. They're awesome."
He said he'd wait until the end to ride the waves.
With house stocked, sleep is the goal
Around Westhampton Beach's Main Street, which was part of an evacuation zone, the streets were deserted and a majority of the stores had boarded up windows since morning.
Kevin Crean, 57, of Remsenberg enjoyed a breakfast of chicken salad and coffee at the Hamptons Coffee Company, but he wasn't staying long.
"I'm well-prepared, I stocked the house with nonperishables and got rid of my garbage," Crean said.
As for his plans for the night: "Sleep," Crean said with a chuckle. "I'm too old for hurricane parties."