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Sandy's surge overwhelms Long Island coastal areas

Unprecedented storm surge overwhelmed coastal areas of Long Island Monday, flooding homes, driving residents to high ground and breaching Fire Island, even as waters were expected to rise even higher Monday night and into this morning.

The National Weather Service forecast potentially "historic" and "life-threatening" coastal flooding, with Sandy's awesome power, coupled with the full moon, spawning devastating high tides projected to top 11 feet above normal in some parts of the Island.

In addition to the huge tides expected late Monday night and Tuesday morning, the service forecast waves of up to 12 feet along eastern-facing stretches of the North Shore, and up to 20 feet on the Atlantic coast.

A weather service coastal flood warning is in effect until 3 p.m. Tuesday.

"We're looking at major to record levels on both sides of the coast," service forecaster David Stark said of the storm's force. "I don't have anything to compare it to."

State and local officials Monday said that Sandy's storm surge had already done damage to the North Shore, which was blasted by wind and waves from the east, while bringing rarely seen high water and erosion to South Shore bays.

In the Peconic Bay system, easterly winds pushed water into creeks and up the Peconic River into downtown Riverhead, where waves lapped over the tops of parked cars.

Aram Terchunian, a coastal geologist who visited battered North and South shore beaches Monday, said, "I got a real bad feeling. . . . The die is cast. We've just got to hang on."

Vulnerable Fire Island was breached at Atlantic Beach and also at Kismet, according to Islip Town Councilman John Cochrane and Kismet fire Chief Dominic Bertucci. In addition, Cochrane said there were a total of seven washovers in Atlantic Beach, Cherry Grove, Kismet and Ocean Beach. Cochrane said he was concerned that Sandy will alter the Island's geography. The full extent of breaches and washovers will not be known until after sunrise Tuesday.

Despite the awesome force bearing down on them, dozens of Fire Island residents stayed put rather than evacuate as they were ordered.

Year-round resident Lori Mattiasen, 54, of Seaview, said late Monday afternoon that neighbors' homes -- and a nearby market -- were flooded. She said the street held 18 inches of water and floating debris. Though concerned about looming high tides, she said her more elevated home was safe and she expressed no alarm.

"There is no plan," she said. "If worse comes to worse, we'll go to the second story."

In Babylon Town, 3,000 houses that are home to 12,000 people sit in evacuation zones along the waterfront, and by 3 p.m. many of them had flooded. Residents who had not yet followed evacuation orders fled their homes and streamed north, out of harm's way.

"I'm assuming there are some people who did not heed the call, who now are starting to panic," town Supervisor Rich Schaffer said.

George Gorman, deputy regional director of the New York State parks system, said the storm surge at state-owned Jones Beach Theater submerged orchestra seats and the promenade under 1 to 2 feet of seawater.

Gorman, who has been with the parks department for three decades, said the only time that he'd seen comparable high water was during Hurricane Gloria in 1985. But compared with Gloria, Sandy is slow-moving and its impact is being felt over more high tides.

"We are extremely concerned," Gorman said. "With the flooding and erosion we have seen so far, this may impact next summer season, the swimming season."

On the North Fork, waves buried the causeway to Orient for much of Monday, turning the eastern tip of the fork into an island.

Farther west, the morning's high tide closed the causeway to Lloyd Neck, cutting off homes where 1,800 people live from the mainland, though many residents had already evacuated.

In low-lying Asharoken Village, police Officer-in-Charge Ray Mahdesian said that just before noon about a dozen homes on Duck Island were completely surrounded by the Long Island Sound as Duck Island Harbor waters breached an access road and flowed into Northport Bay.

Joseph Tilleli, a seven-year Asharoken resident, said he was evacuating his family because he'd never seen a storm like Sandy.

"We had 13-foot waves coming over our deck," he said. "This is bad. An historic event."

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