By Rick Murphy
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Many weather observers thought we would never see another weather system the likes of The Perfect Storm of 1991, but as of Sunday another mammoth storm is bearing down on the East End. Some prognosticators at the U.S. Weather Service are saying it may be the most severe in history.
The fluke convergence of three separate and distinct weather systems is responsible. Hurricane Sandy, a killer (40 deaths so far) having devastated several Caribbean islands is churning up the Atlantic. Normally, the typical path this time of year would lead it out to sea, but a high-pressure system in Greenland is pushing it towards the U.S. Coast. Meanwhile, another storm from the northwest is pulling it inland. The resulting hybrid, part hurricane, part Nor'easter, will likely affect two-thirds of the country, the Weather Channel predicted Sunday.
"It's almost like a cyclone," said Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst. "It's a hurricane and a Nor'easter, and a full moon."
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone declared a state of emergency Saturday morning and ordered a mandatory evacuation of Fire Island. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo also declared a state of emergency, calling the upcoming weather event "a super storm." LIPA officials are warning that customers could lose power for a week or more.
In East Hampton Town, boat owners were notified that all boats must be removed from town docks and marinas by Monday.
Anna Throne-Holst ordered a mandatory evacuation of Dune Road Sunday morning, and police and fire personnel went up and down the road Sunday to make sure. "We already had flooding on West Dune Road (Hampton Bays) just from the high tide," said Southampton Town Highway Supervisor Alex Gregor. He said crews have been out since 6 AM Sunday securing job sites. "We sent employees home with plow trucks and chain saws in case they need to clear out their driveways to get to work."
Southampton could be impacted on the south and on the north. "Any of the low lying areas south of Montauk Highway. But depending on the tract the Peconics could produce flooding," Gregor said.
East Hampton Town Supervisor was also preparing for the worst Sunday. "I'm worried about Soundview, I'm worried about downtown Montauk, and depending on if the storm turns, Napeague," he said. An evacuation of Gerard Drive was a possibility as The Independent went to press.
"I'm very, very worried about erosion," said Throne-Holst. "This thing is going to be with us for 36 hours. Consider Irene was with us for eight to nine hours."
The North Fork is also in danger of major flooding. Officials said the Long Island Sound is expected to rise considerably, especially during high tide and a full moon on Monday night. The National Weather Service warned of "life threatening storm surges for both the Sound and the Atlantic."
Southold Town Supervisor warned residents of low lying areas to seek shelter and declared a state of emergency Sunday. Mattituck, Southold, and Greenport high schools will all serve as shelters until the storm passes.
The Red Cross announced it was opening a shelter at the Hampton Bays High School on 88 Argonne Avenue. Riverhead Town officials were meeting Sunday to decide whether to open the high school as a shelter. Home Depot in Tanger Mall was ordered to take down an outdoor tent it had erected for a sale event.
In the wake of Hurricane Irene and the subsequent widespread power outages East End officials are worried that electricity will be lost for an extended period.
"I'm worried about the power," Wilkinson acknowledged. "We keep an alert list of seniors who may be threatened."
"Based on the severity and current tract of the storm we urge customers to prepare and plan for power outages that could last as much as 7 to 10 days," read a statement posted on the LIPA website. "While not all customers will see restoration crews working specifically in their neighborhoods following the storm, crews will perform damage surveys as soon as possible during and after the storm and following established safety guidelines."
"They've been great," said Throne-Holst about LIPA. "We've had several meetings. I think they learned a lot from Irene." But, she acknowledged, if the storm is severe enough there is no way to prevent outages.
"Stay home," Gregor warned. "If you need help call."