“Irene” – 8/28/2011, Category 1, Hurricane
Originally published: August 28, 2011 6:59 AM
Updated: August 28, 2011 7:38 AM
By BY WILLIAM MURPHY and JENNIFER SMITH
Tens of thousands were without power, trees toppled and streets flooded as Hurricane Irene barreled up the coast overnight and began lashing Long Island.
The worst was yet to come, as Irene’s eye was expected to make landfall at 10 a.m. At the time the eye hits, winds of 50 to 60 mph, gusting to 75, are expected, forecasters said.
With winds already reaching 55 mph, the Nassau County Police Department advised its officers to seek shelter Sunday morning, and warned motorists to stay off the roads. Police were still responding to emergencies, the department said.
Heavy rain triggered an urban flood advisory for Suffolk County, effective until 9 a.m.
A tornado watch remained in effect until 11 a.m. Sunday for Long Island and most of the metropolitan area. A stronger advisory, called a tornado warning, was briefly in effect about 4 a.m. for the southern parts of Nassau, Queens and Brooklyn.
The winds continued to wreak havoc on the local electric grid, as power outages climbed to 271,534 — more than 20 percent of LIPA customers — by 6:30 a.m.
LIPA, which has 2,150 crew members preparing to restore power, had expected winds to thrash and damage tree limbs, impacting electric lines, across Long Island.
The outages are spread out across Long Island, though some of the largest concentrations are at the end of both forks.
LIPA spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said Saturday that repair crews would not be venturing out into the teeth of the storm, with winds at 50 mph or more, though assessments from the field are expected to begin early Sunday.
As the storm continues to impact low-lying areas of Suffolk, Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko said Saturday that one of his big concerns was looting, and that he had ordered a halt to all alcohol sales as of 11 p.m. Tens of thousands evacuated flood-prone areas of Mastic, Shirely and Patchogue.
“As the hurricane leaves we’ll have a presence on the South Shore to discourage looters and get personnel to help remove any people out who remained behind out,” Lesko said.
He spent much of Saturday night in a command center in Brookhaven Town Hall, after traveling much of the day to communities, including Mastic, Patchogue village and the Strong’s Neck community in Setauket, urging residents to evacuate.
In Nassau County, Long Beach Road was flooded out between Merrick Road and Sunrise Highwayin early morning, and in Suffolk County a downed tree closed westbound lanes of the Northern State Parkway near Round Swamp Road about 2 a.m. A tree was down in the westbound lanes at Route 135 and Sunrise Highway in Seaford, officials said.
The weather service advisory said that Irene, moreso than most storms, had stronger winds at its higher elevations, and that the upper floors of high-rise buildings could have winds 30 percent stronger than surface winds.
The eye of the storm was still headed for the Nassau County area, but “The hurricane-force winds could engulf all of Long Island,” said David Stark, a meteorologist with the National Weather Servicein Upton.
On the East End, the storm was just picking up on the East End by about 5:30 a.m. Sunday, with multiple police agencies reporting tree branches down and some winds.
“The event is just starting to roll into this area,” said Lt. Bob Iberger of the Southampton Town Police Department. “We’re just starting to get very busy here.”
Public transit systems across the metropolitan area remained shut down. Throughout the day Saturday, hundreds of thousands were ordered to evacuate as outer bands from Irene lashed the region through the afternoon. Into the night, officials encouraged people to stay inside.
In some places Saturday, officials personally cajoled residents of flood-prone areas to leave.
After Islip Supervisor Phil Nolan visited their low-lying street with members of the West Islip Fire Department, Tahlulah Lane residents David and Marisa Hammock said they would head for higher ground.
“We’d been assessing it,” said David, 35. Marisa, 31, explained she was worried about their pets, two dogs and a cat, because they hadn’t been able to find a place to take them.
“He reinforced the decision to leave,” said Marisa’s father, Peter Miranti. “It makes sense. Gloria [a Category 2 hurricane in 1985] was here for just two hours at low tide and Irene might be on us for five hours at high tide.”
“The entire island could be breached by an eight-foot surge,” Lesko said. Staying, he said, “is really an unwise decision.”
All area airports were closed late Saturday with no scheduled reopening. Only a handful of flights — mostly overseas — left the three major airports late Saturday, said Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman. There are “far less than 100” stranded passengers, he said.
On restaurant in each terminal will remain open and cots will be available, Coleman said.
At JFK’s Terminal Four, Virginia residents Jennifer and Mike Tucker said they’d been waiting for their luggage since 8 a.m., when their cruise back from the Bahamas docked early because of the storm. The earliest flight out would be Monday, they were told.
“I just want to go home and be with my family,” said Jennifer Tucker.
With Jennifer Barrios, Mark Harrington and Tania Lopez
Attention Smith Point Lifeguards and Suffolk County Residents; please be advised that the Smith Point Beach, Cupsogue Beach and Meschutt Beach are going to be closed Saturday and Sunday. You will not be able to access the beaches! The Suffolk County Park Police will not let you through.
Be careful and use safe and sound judgment this weekend.
Smith Point Lifeguards, check the schedule, all beaches (as of today, Friday) will reopen Monday (8/29/11).