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Hurricane Sandy crashes into Rye; city left in darkness

11/8/2012 9:59:46 AM

In the end, Hurricane Sandy—coined the perfect storm—lived up to its billing and proved to be a storm for the ages.

 

In the wake of devastation in New York and New Jersey, Westchester was again dealt a debilitating blow from a natural disaster that left wreckage—mostly in the form of fallen trees, downed power lines and substantial power outages—across the county.

 

The force with which the storm blew into the region was something unprecedented in the history of the tri-state area. Sandy brought with it a deadly mix of wind gusts that exceeded 70 miles per hour locally and tidal surges that sent waves of up to 11 foot high crashing over barriers.

 

“This was a major storm like no other,” said Rye Mayor Douglas French, a Republican, at a Tuesday afternoon press briefing. “When compared to [Tropical Storm] Irene, this was more widespread.”

 

City officials were unable to provide cost estimates of the damage sustained, as the city’s building inspector was still surveying buildings and area beach clubs which bared the brunt of coastal impact. Nationally, damages are being estimated to run as high as $50 billion.

 

Meanwhile, county officials await a federal declaration of disaster, which would provide municipal governments necessary financial aid. President Obama had already declared New York and New Jersey disaster areas.

 

County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican, was seen touring the county by helicopter on Tuesday, making pit stops at Playland and other areas in Rye to assess the damage.

 

On Wednesday, the county executive joined another helicopter tour, this time of the New York metropolitan area that included a view to Westchester. He sat alongside Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and U.S. senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats.

 

“While other communities, suffered more substantial flood damage, Westchester was hardest hit by downed trees that are blocking hundreds of streets in our county,” Astorino said after touching down.

 

Con Edison was reporting more than 179,000 power outages throughout the county–more than triple the number of homes affected during Tropical Storm Irene last year.

 

In Rye, roughly 90 percent of the city–4,513 locations out of 5,000 households in total–remained without power, as of press time Wednesday. Early reports estimate most power restorations by Nov. 9, according to Con Edison.

 

The city was inundated with downed trees, wires and even some traffic control devices. “We have down trees and down wires all over this community, and every wire has to be treated as a live wire,” Police Commissioner William Connors said.

 

Along Rye’s Manursing Way, several trees had pierced homes and many access roads were closed due to blockage from fallen trees. In one instance, a city DPW truck had to be abandoned after being stuck by down trees on both ends of Kirby Lane.

 

Prior to the height of the storm, 20 trees had fallen in the city causing 37 road closures. Post-storm, city officials were unable to offer an updated count, but could state that no injuries had been reported, as of press time.

 

Westchester did experience three storm-related fatalities, two in North Salem and one on the Sprain Brook Parkway. In total, more than 40 residents of the state were killed in Sandy’s wrath.

 

In Rye, on Tuesday, the city declared a state of emergency at roughly 2 p.m. which remained in effect as of Friday. The storm precipitated mandatory evacuations of the Milton Point area and other low-lying coastal zones within the city as tidal surges began exceeding average heights. Mayor French reported that surge levels grew as high as 11 feet during the height of the hurricane.

 

“It was well above average in terms of the surge,” French said, “but it receded fairly quickly though.” Hurricane Sandy etched itself in the record books for tide levels at 13.8 feet in lower Manhattan, according to reports from the Weather Channel.

 

For area residents, an emergency shelter was set up at Rye Country Day School on Sunday night. The mayor reported that as many as 50 residents remained in the shelter as of Tuesday. The shelter remained open through Friday. Area shelters were also set up in neighboring Port Chester and Mamaroneck.

 

With most of the city having gone dark, residents were scrambling to stay connected. People were seen on Tuesday afternoon huddling in front of a closed Starbucks on Purchase Street trying to access WiFi service.

 

In the meantime, the Rye YMCA was offering displaced residents the opportunity to take a hot shower and charge their cellphones. The library, Ruby’s Oyster Bar, Rye Bar and Grill and Poppy’s were all also offering Internet access for locals.

 

The Long Island Sound made its mark on county-owned Playland, which experienced severe damage to its infrastructure from high tide surges. The north boardwalk has been destroyed and damage was also inflicted to the pier and main boardwalk. The Ice Casino sustained some damage when water and sand breached the main skating rink. But the amusement rides appear to have survived unscathed.

 

At Rye Town Park, Seaside Johnnie’s was flooded and debris was littered all over the park. The Oakland Beach seawall at Dearborn Avenue, constructed of concrete, was structurally damaged.

 

“In a night like Monday, the surf down at Dearborn Avenue was strong enough to wear away concrete and stone,” Commissioner Connors said, “and certainly, if somebody was affected by that, their next stop may be Long Island.”

 

The area beach clubs suffered, possibly the mosst extensive damage. At Shenorock Shore Club, cabanas and some infrastructure were damaged beyond recognition while the American Yacht Club experienced structural damage and had roughly 10 of its boats washed away by the tide. Connors said the police’s marine unit was able to locate five of the boats which came crashing on shore. The Coveleigh Club and Westchester Country Club also experienced minor damages.

 

“Right now, the city is in public safety mode,” Mayor French said on Tuesday afternoon. “We’re going through live wires in the streets and cutting and clearing the access roads. And trying to restore the traffic control devices.”

 

According to city officials, Rye didn’t experience much public infrastructure compromises or facilities damage, which had been the takeaway from the 2007 floods. Officials only reported some flooding to the Milton firehouse.

 

But public safety officials did make 12 rescues during high tide.

 

According to the police commissioner, one resident had driven around barricades, erected on Stuyvesant Avenue near the Shenorock Club, and into the water. A similar incident also took place on Manursing Way when a car became stuck in the water and the occupants had to be removed. Three residents had to be removed from a house on Milton Road opposite the Dock Deli area. Police personnel had to back trucks up to the door due to the water level, which had risen to the front door of the building, the commissioner said.

 

A structural fire was reported on Horton Street, believed to be from a generator explosion.

 

After the city announced its mandatory evacuation, six residents in the Milton Harbor House requested to be removed, after disregarding the evacuation notice. Public safety personnel pulled occupants out, as the water level had risen to roughly seven feet.

 

“It was done in the nick of time,” Connors said. “Another few seconds and the truck would have been submerged.”

 

On Tuesday, the city announced that Halloween would be postponed indefinitely due to safety concerns in and around town. County and city officials continue to urge residents to limit travel and stay away from wires, hanging branches and fallen trees.

CHRISTIAN FALCONE

The Rye Sound Shore Review

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