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What if a Category 4-5 Hurricane Hit the Hamptons?

A reread is timely.

I first wrote most of this a few weeks after Katrina but the paper I worked for killed what I wrote because it was "too negative." It basically was a report by the U.S. on what would happen to the East End and believe me the article wasn't good for Hamptons real estate and was killed. So two years later I toned it down and it was edited quite a bit. This summer I put out a hybrid of the two during Hurricane season, maybe you read it, perhaps now is a good time to reread it.

In the middle of this depressing economic downturn no one has the gumption to talk about the catastrophic results a level 3-4-5 hurricane would have on the East End.

After Katrina I was assigned a story about the what if’s concerning the Hamptons. At the time the results were so horrific the story was killed.

Because the village of East Hampton is so close to the ocean with a natural wall of sand dunes that can handle about a 7- to 9-foot rise above normal high tide, the problem lies in the fact that a Category 3 hurricane is projected to make the tide 13 feet higher than normal (depending on the tide).

Back in 2007 I interviewed schoolteachers from Biloxi, Mississippi, who solemnly told me it is was 32 feet higher than normal water level that destroyed their homes, town and lives. That was a Category 4 situation with wind direction and tides working against them.

Ellen Stahl of Sag Harbor told me about her touring Biloxi after Katrina and having one mother say Biloxi looked liked, “Hiroshima, without the radiation.”

Could that happen here? An East Hampton town study a while back basically estimated the damage to the Village of Montauk's infrastructure, roads, sewers, electrical lines and buildings to be a minimum of $500 million. Add the other hamlets and East Hampton Town’s exposure could be in the billions. The same most likely for Southampton.

This number does not include personal effects in homes, stores and things like cars.

Our government (FEMA) ever thoughtful, issued a press release a few years back about “Pets in an Emergency!” and since I have a dog I read it. Things like, have a survival kit of pet food, medical supplies, water and medical records were mentioned.

Then I read a Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) report on Hurricane safety precautions that centered on windows and doors and how secure they are or how they should be improved, as well as the importance of town building codes. What I also read in that report was one should always have drinking water put away should the electric go out and the pumps won’t work or worse (Unsafe water due to broken pipes).

I thought back to the nuclear bomb shelter days when people had canned foods and supplies put away to wait out a nuclear attack. How many people today have stuff put away for a nuclear attack let alone a hurricane?

So what should one have? Power bars, basic canned soups with real long expiration dates, not to mention spam if it still exists? (By the way I loved the spam at Boy Scout camp back in the sixties). How much water do you have stored? How many stored fully charged cell phone batteries do you have in a secure place or do you have a car cellphone charger to recharge your cell phone should traditional phone lines go down?

If a category 4-5 hurricane happens, let's face it, help will not be coming for a few days.

Dan Rattiner told me after the hurricane of 1938 a certain Montauk pharmacy owner, (not his dad) doubled the prices of everything in the store while Montauk was cut off from the rest of East Hampton by flooding across Neapeague. That is illegal now but... 

By the way without electricity gas can’t be sold, supermarkets can’t sell merchandise because all checkout counters are electric. And forget about using the ATM, during the last power outage that lasted almost a day in NYC, ATMs were useless. This article isn’t supposed to scare you but make you think about some basic needs. It’s been perhaps too long since a storm like the one that destroyed Westhampton Beach has hit the area.

Last year many went wild inconvenienced for just a week. Perhaps too many people just are too busy to worry about a bad storm. One has to wonder about the possibility the town’s of East Hampton and Southampton both in the middle of cost cutting have actually taken a short cut or two on storm emergency supplies? The fact is most likely everyone has.

Remember hearing about the run in the local stores for batteries, water, milk and other basic supplies before last years hurricane scare? Perhaps one should create one’s own survival list like the FEMA pet one. Maybe everyone should think through where they might go in their home to ride out a storm if they can’t evacuate.

Think about the stories of the long line of cars out of Charleston, South Carolina during their last hurricane scare and people running out of gas in those non-moving traffic jams. Here's a story about crazy damage; I remember reading how Island Dunes Condos located on Hutchinson Island along Florida’s East Coast had four floors of pack sand from the floors to the ceilings during the storms of 2000. I saw the pictures.

FEMA says, “Disasters or emergencies can strike quickly and without warning and may force you to evacuate your neighborhood or confine you to your home… Being prepared for an emergency is everyone’s responsibility. If you are elderly or have disabilities or special needs, careful planning is essential to survive a tornado, flood, fire or other disaster."

After Katrina everyone was quick to point out how foolish New Orleans was to be so unprepared for a hurricane. Will the country be saying that about the Hamptons

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Nyla November 01, 2012 at 07:39 PM
Love, it.. a much needed article. I just posed a similar question to my mother this morning. How prepared are we Long Islanders, for a hurricane? What would we do if we were hit with a category 2 or 3 Hurricane? Sandy was category 1, and thankfully we did ok in some areas, but not so well in others. It's about 3:30 pm, November 1st and Riverhead, is a tad bit nutty. Gas stations are either out of power or out of gas and people are frantic. Groceries are either closed or extremely limited with food. WWJD = What would Jesus Do?
M. Schafer November 02, 2012 at 04:15 PM
Don't forget, we saw the effects of a borderline Cat. 1/ tropical storm that hit New Jersey. And if you compare the damage there with the relatively mild outcome the question remains, what about a more servers storm that has this area in its path. I very much doubt that it would look any different than New Orleans or the Jersey shore today. Given the more rural character and bold construction right behind the dunes with no real man made protection provisions we're in for a devastating outcome. Hurricane routs need to marked more aggressively, a multi level siren alarm needs to be created and advertised along with more detailed maps regarding multilevel evac zones beyond what's in place today
T.J. Clemente November 02, 2012 at 04:53 PM
I agree with both of you, in the original article that was killed, the Feds insisted the Town of EH construct a 17 ft high sand dune barrier along the Atlantic Coast. Just like the Feds told and Louisiana and New Orleans to reinforce many of the levy's well before Katrina, but the cost made all actions non starters... Then comes an event and the post cost is 20 times more. Hey it's tough to figure out who, gets ,what, where, when and how, then ask for tax dollars to do it, but somehow the farmers out west had huge irrigation systems built, the cities maintain expensive Mass Transit programs, that cost billions in public dollars to build, yet when it comes to protecting the shore line, decision makers, have decided it's not a priority, until huge loss of life and damage like a Katrina happens. I hope it does not, but the saying is "a gambler never bets on crapping out."
Jack Peru November 02, 2012 at 08:40 PM
It is time for DUNE ROAD to be transformed into a true DUNE. It will help protect the middle class residents of HAMPTON BAYS, WESTHAMPTON and other areas. Look at all the homes on DUNE ROAD now. Will the RICH try to rebuild...probably. Will the towns once again spend millions to 'replenish sand'...I hope not. Its time to be smart about all of this and force politicians to make SENSIBLE decisions for the future of our children. DUNE ROAD must be used as TRUE DUNE. A place for the rich only used in summers should be used to SAVE US ALL! Please pass this message to your friends, families and politicians!
bchbum11968 November 03, 2012 at 01:09 AM
Boy is this ever a true statement!!!!!! If we don't leave the barrier beaches as barrier beaches they will disappear. The bays are in BIG trouble, the pollution is killing them. If it doesn't stop and we don't let the beaches replenish themselves naturally we won't have them PERIOD.
muskrat November 03, 2012 at 03:22 PM
We can't build barrier dunes because of all the houses that have been allowed to be built into and on them. We'd have to cover the houses. Today in Sagaponack, what dunes were there are gone in many places leaving the house's underbellies exposed and pools hanging eerily in mid air still supported by poles. Fifty to eighty feet or more thickness of dunes at their bases was washed out from under the houses. The ocean simply scoured all the sand away and swept it down the beach. It would have taken away taller dunes as well. The dunes themselves have a natural wind driven migration north which can not be halted. Sandy exposed parts of the old bog that used to exist behind - north of - the dunes. The bog was originally a broad marshy area that ran behind the dunes all along Long Island's south shore. Settlers let their cattle graze there and gathered salt hay for insulating their houses, gardens and for animal feed. The dunes slowly marched northward covering the marshes until they disappeared in many areas. Occasionally remnants of the old bog gets uncovered along the beach in front of - south of - the dunes by fierce storms. It looks like dark and tarry ground. Today, a good sized section showing old ox cart tracks can be seen in Sagaponack.
muskrat November 03, 2012 at 03:50 PM
As for being prepared for emergencies, that is everybody's personal responsibility. Government can not help everyone immediately. It takes days to determine the extent of damage and discover what people need, and days more to get it there. Usually grassroots response is quicker for small things and we are seeing that happening now as organizations gather and personally deliver food, water, blankets, baby formula and diapers. The Chamber of Commerce in Southampton is looking for donations right now. I went down several times to bring Katrina supplies and saw the scale of destruction. I met people who didn't get any help or see an official for ten long days. They had to help themselves and each other as best they could. When help started arriving, it was slow. Some had to sleep in their cars from September until November. Luckily, it was warmer down there. Suffolk County advises everyone to keep a week to ten days worth of food, water and essential supplies - batteries, radio, etc. - which makes enormous sense whether we get hit by a hurricane, winter storm or something man caused. A bio-attack on NYC could cut us off. Southampton Town has sent out mailers and brochures detailing what each household can and should do to prepare for a major hurricane. How many kept the information or followed it? There are commercials in TV advising us all to have a plan if our lives get turned upside down. Seems a lot of people sitting in gas lines didn't do that.
T.J. Clemente November 03, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Sunny, Very technical, very informed, great comment, the wonderful things is the human spirit to overcome the adversity, the worst thing is the underbelly of the human spirit that also gets exposed, like on gas lines, and phone calls to utilities,cable companies, town officials. Great discussion. This is why patch blogs are wonderful.
leslie November 09, 2012 at 06:03 PM
Long Islanders would be screwed!!!!! ALL the Money in the world would make mother nature change.. But the Human race has to, every little bit helps..No more Dune road Montauk highway if it survives would be ocean front... look at the people now with the gas lines argueing, looting and etc.. common sense doesn't need a pamphlet....

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