It’s hard to think of anything else, even though Hurricane Irene is thousands of miles away. My ex, BJ, has called several times, plus emails in the past couple of days, and my 87-year old mom has called me and I’ve also called her once. That’s a lot of phone traffic for my family. Such unprecedented behavior reveals they’ve been on my mind.
In addition, down the street from where I live in Eatonville, a mariachi band has been playing full tilt for the past four hours and despite my meager capacities in the Spanish tongue, they seem to be having a solidarity party for their countrymen in New York. Folks from the Dominican Republic or Cuba? My neighbor and I are a bit hazy on the details.
Nevertheless, at lot of us around here are thinking about what is happening Back East. So, here’s what I know.
In terms of the big picture, the mayor of New York City has ordered the unprecedented evacuation of over 350,000 people from low-lying areas, mostly in Brookyn and Queens.
The Governor of New Jersey ordered a million people to evacuate with the simple words: “Get the hell away from the beach. You’re done working on your tans!”
Mom and BJ are out on Long Island, in Nassau County not far from the city line. Out their way, officials have ordered the mandatory evacuation of 400,000 people in Nassau and Suffolk Counties who live south of Sunrise Highway.
To give you a bit of the geography, Long Island is 120 miles long and runs eastwards from the city. Brooklyn and Queens are actually the western-most portions of Long Island, but everybody think of them as just being part of “the city.” For most Long Islanders, it’s Nassau County and its counterpart further to the east, Suffolk, that comprise “Da Island.”
Our famous beaches, such as Jones Beach, are not on Long Island proper, but are actually on very long, thin barrier islands to the south, and are really just built-up sand dunes. North of the barrier islands is Great South Bay, which is about two-four miles in width and it separates the beaches from the “mainland” of Long Island. The bay stretches for about 80 miles, from JFK airport to the Hamptons.
Now, there is a lot of water in the bay and the south shore of LI is exceptionally flat, just a couple feet above sea level. In a regular full-moon high tide I’ve seen the bay pour inland for a few blocks, pushing sewage and sea water up through the man-hole covers like tiny geysers. One memorable evening I hustled mom and dad out of their favorite seafood restaurant in Freeport and out to the car just in time to make a getaway before the waters got too deep. We had to drive on the crown of the road at 4 mph and pray that the baywaters didn’t seep into our tail pipe.
As for the evacuation zone on LI, Sunrise Highway is about five miles north of Great South Bay, so clearly county officials are not taking any chances.
A better estimate of catastrophe would be to say that the predicted 6-8 foot storm surge would reach a couple miles inland, such as to Merrick Rd, the southern-most thoroughfare that runs parallel to the bay.
Still, that’s a lot of people, and if it floods it will cause enormous havoc to their sewer system and water supply. Further, most of the sewage treatment plants are along the bay, and if they go off line LI is gonna be a mess.
Some folks live directly on the ocean, in places like Long Beach, Far Rockaway and Coney Island. An eight-foot wall of water and 90 miles per hour winds could level those places, or at least rearrange the neighborhood.
Fortunately, Mom lives in a solidly built two-story home in mid-island, while BJ resides north of her in the accurately named hamlet of Sea Cliff. They are in ideal locations to ride out a hurricane, but nevertheless, the latest forecasts from the NY Times place the eye of the storm directly over both of their homes about 8 am Sunday morning.
Thus, they are at the highest risk for wind damage, and the big concern is toppling trees, punctured roofs, flying glass and injuries.
After the flurry of phone calls and emails between family members, here is what I know from back home.
I last spoke with BJ at 6 pm NY time. She’s at Mom’s, mostly giving moral support, so Mom went to 5 o’clock mass with her church ladies. Mom also has a visitor named Lisa from the UK, arriving in New York via New Zealand, and she will be staying for a few days. Mom has been a world traveler and has made friends around the globe, so many of them send their kids to Mom’s and use her home as a New York hostel. Mom loves the company, and this weekend it is a most fortunate occurrence for all.
BJ said that Mom looks prepared for the storm. The ten gallons of water I stored in jugs is still downstairs in the camping closet, along with a few bags of rice and beans, a dozen cans of sterno and a collapsible sterno stove. Mom’s pantry and freezer, as always, is chock-full of peanut butter, soups and cans of tuna fish.
She has a few candles and flashlights, but her main strategy in an emergency is to go to bed.
When I spoke with BJ, it appeared New York was having a quintessential “calm before the storm.”
“It’s a warm summer’s evening,” BJ said. “The air is still, and it’s humid.”
BJ also said that the rain wasn’t expected to hit until later in the evening, and she told me she would be leaving Mom’s by 9 pm, with only a 20 minute run to her home if the traffic was okay.
“They say that by 11 pm things should begin to pick-up,” she said. “Heavy rains and 50 miles-per-hour winds.”
With that kind of time-table, there is going to be a lot of wind and rain before the eye passes nine hours later. Whew.
I think at this point everyone considers flooding to be the main issue. Even mom, at mid-island, is still in an area that floods in deluges, so this could be an issue.
However, BJ is perfectly situated. Her home is nestled into the north side of the cliff that composes “Sea Cliff,” and her home is also 90 feet above sea level. As a result, she will never flood and her home is nestled in the lea of the hill, so wind damage is typically minimal.
However, there is a big old maple on the slope behind her. She told me today that she has resolved to take it down after the storm, assuming it is still standing, which is what my prayers and meditations are telling it to do.
She too, has lots of food and water, propane stoves and “five sets of fresh batteries.”
In addition, she has her granddaughter living with her and her grandson-in-law-to-be as well. So, she’s got back-up. Plus, her granddaughter is gathering a group of her friends, including a few stragglers from Brooklyn, which is one place that has a lot of low-lying areas.
Everyone seems ready for a super storm, but not the apocalypse. If NY is crippled, they may not have enough food, water, batteries, etc for the long-haul. NJ’s Governor Christie is telling people to be able to ride out the storm for five days. Certainly transit and roads will not be up and running before the end of the day, Monday, at best, but I am concerned that the New York metro area will experience major damage to its infrastructure.
On the personal side, as I said before my major concern beyond the flooding is that folks may get injured from flying glass, falling or tripping, etc.
BJ and mom, and others that I’ve spoken with, are not treating Irene as just another hurricane, and they see this one as special. Certainly the governmental response has been unprecedented.
The last big hurricane to hit LI was Gloria in 1985. It approached LI as a Category 2 hurricane with sustained winds of 100 mph. However, about fifteen minutes before land-fall the winds dropped to about 60 and was only a tropical storm by the time it reached Sea Cliff. Breezy, but not a problem.
It was almost mystical how it lost its potency so rapidly, and I wonder if the same thing will happen with Irene. Now, however, the ocean has had so much wind over such a vast area for so long that the surge may be beyond the immediate influence of a reduced blow.
It’s 11 pm in New York. Here we go.
Stay strong and safe NY, and may you be filled with the love of God.
Addendum: 11:30 pm, NY time:
– BJ says it is raining heavily, but no wind. She just had a chat with the maple tree, and the grandkids aren’t home yet.
– The Hispanic party is getting louder. I’m either calling the cops or joining the party.
Addendum II: 12:30 am NY time:
This just came in from cousins Bruce and Debbie on Staten Island:
We are safe high (127ft above sea level) and dry at home (inside NYC bay) above any evacuation zones watching the rain, TV and internet.
NYC DOT traffic cams http://nyctmc.org/
NYC Evacuation Zones http://project.wnyc.org/news-maps/hurricane-zones/hurricane-zones.html
ABC News http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/page?id=14355852
National Weather Service http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/refresh/graphics_at4+shtml/211341.shtml?gm_track#contents
WNYC has posted a map of evacuation zones and threat level estimates for residents of New York City http://www.weather.com/newscenter/hurricanecentral/2011/irene.html
Statue of Liberty live web cam out in the harbor http://www.earthcam.com/usa/newyork/statueofliberty/?cam=liberty_str
© 2011 The Mountain News – WA
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