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Search of inundated Fire Island planned

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

As dawn breaks, rescue officials in Suffolk will begin planning almost a military-like “convoy” of vehicles to inundated Fire Island or a Black Hawk helicopter recon over it to find stranded residents and gauge storm damage.

“We can have first responders on Fire Island whether we have to get there by helicopter or down the beach,” said Joe Williams, Suffolk County commissioner of fire and rescue.

It’ll be the latest rescue following a long night of dramatic efforts that taxed state and local agencies and that stretched into Tuesday as Long Island officials begin taking stock of fire, flood and wind damage in the light of day. The Island and New York City that took the brunt of Sandy’s storm surge and high winds, which were unusually concentrated on the outer bands of the weather system instead of the eye of the cyclone.

About 60 out of some 250 year-round residents there had elected to reject the “last shot” chance at evacuation Monday at 2 p.m., but once high tide hit, many changed their minds, said Joe Williams, Suffolk commissioner of fire and rescue.

It was impossible to reach them by land, ocean and air Monday night, he said. At least 17 people bunkered down at the Woodhull School in Ocean Beach, but the fate of others was not know after phone contact was lost with most of them, he said.

Williams said one resident told him seven homes on Davis Park had washed away.

“We’re going to make a convoy to get over there because, first of all, we want to make it safe,” he said, recalling how a Suffolk police Suburban vehicle washed away upside down into the ocean Monday, the officers barely escaping as they hopped onto a Saltaire fire department vehicle.

Barring a land arrival, the commissioner said, the 106th Air National Guard out of Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach may have to fly a recon mission out of a Black Hawk helicopter, which can go out in heavier winds. The Guard may have to get “boots on the ground” to find people and perhaps deliver supplies.

Elsewhere in Suffolk, families with babies and pets rode to safety on Babylon Town payloaders well after midnight as rescuers took them away from Sandy’s flooding in Amity Harbor and Copiague.

“This was one of the hot spots,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone as he traveled with rescue crews on Babylon’s shores. “We had to have LIPA shut the grid down. There were 10-plus working fires going on at the same time. The phones exploded with people wanting to be evacuated.”

In Nassau, County Executive Edward Mangano said more than 170 people had been rescued Monday night, primarily coastal residents who tried to ride out Sandy and then got in trouble when high tide came.

A woman in labor, a heart attack victim, people in flooded homes – the calls flooded 911, going from west to east as the tide moved along the coast, he said.

A dozen firefighters responding to a Massapequa home were stranded, along with the two residents in the house, when the waters rose too high for them to get out, Mangano said. They were rescued by the National Guard and police in “high axle” vehicles, he said.

Both Mangano and Bellone said several coastal communities in the north and south shores were flooded and urged residents to call 911 only in emergencies because rescuers had been inundated.

Fires cropped up all over the Island, stretching rescuers’ limits, authorities said.

What’s causing the fires are trees coming down on wires, transformers blowing up and the wires going into the water and just sparking fires,” Bellone said.

Two homes - one in West Babylon and another in Lindenhurst – “wouldn’t stop burning” and had to be knocked down with payloaders, the county executive said.


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