The late-March rainfall that caused so much flooding on Long Island brought real inconvenience to many. But for about a dozen families on Horton Avenue in Riverhead, it has created a true disaster. If the federal government doesn't see it the same way, the families are in a world of hurt.

Flooding is nothing new there. These homes stand on what used to be wetlands, they're surrounded by farms, a whole watershed drains into the area, and it has a high water table. So the soil couldn't handle the inundation. And the Town of Riverhead, with a budget deficit, can't handle the costs of helping.

That will be a key fact that the Federal Emergency Management Agency must consider as it assesses the damage on Horton Avenue and elsewhere in Suffolk. FEMA money can't flow here until President Barack Obama declares the county a disaster area. It's vital that he make that decision soon.

The town says the majority of the residents in these homes are renters. So they haven't lost equity. But landlords have. Some renters have been there for many years, and the emotional cost of seeing their homes become uninhabitable is immense. They really need help, and FEMA should give it.

Beyond that, to prepare for future outbreaks of freaky weather, public officials at all levels should make it a top priority to seek changes in land-use and other laws and procedures wherever possible, to make disasters like Horton Avenue less common and more bearable. hN