Following Irene: A Hurricane Diary

FRIDAY MORNING

Drove from Manhattan to East Hampton in the morning. Usually when you look out the window, you see crowds of cars heading out to the Hamptons but very few heading toward New York City. There’s the whole weekend ahead of people going to the beach.

On this Friday, there were as many cars heading into Manhattan as heading out to the Hamptons. I had never, ever seen this before. Everybody’s terrified of this enormous hurricane the size of Texas, Hurricane Irene, heading up the coast. It’s off the coast of Florida this morning. But the projected path is that it will hit the center of Long Island somewhere around Patchogue. Where to go? To batten down the house in the country? Or to head to the city to get away from the country.

My friend Jerry says he’s driving out to Shelter Island, intends to bring in all the lawn furniture and get ready, then head back to New York City.

“It’s always worse on the East End,” he says. [expand]

 

FRIDAY AFTERNOON

We arrive on the East End and my wife goes off to play a round of golf with two of her friends. It’s been a long-standing date. It’s a nice day. I can’t believe she is doing this. I am horrified. There’s a hurricane coming, even if it is two days away. When she’s done she will go shopping and meet me at home at dinnertime. I continue on to our house on Three Mile Harbor Road. The boats of town marina peacefully rock in their slips just 75 feet from our front door. A boardwalk sidewalk runs along the top of the seawall.

I recall only one time in the almost 40 years I’ve lived here that the harbor, during an extreme high tide, deposited the boats tied up there onto the boardwalk. I don’t recall the occasion. I just recall seeing them there, floating above the boardwalk (which sits on concrete), pointing at the house. I wonder if that can happen with this storm.

For the rest of the afternoon, at my desk, I am obsessed with the weather channel, accuweather.com and weather.com and taking in all the horrible predictions. The danger to New York is not fair, or severe it is EXTREME! Irene is 400 miles wide! No storm like this has hit the Metropolitan Area in 75 years. The water will flood the subway tunnels. Glass panels will get blown off the skyscrapers! Giant trees will come down in Central Park! Get out if you can! I am hyperventilating.

Late in the day, I go back out again, this time to the East Hampton IGA on North Main Street to stock up on some groceries. I knew my wife would be shopping after golf. What would she be getting? I tried calling her, but got no answer. What the hell, milk? Why not. Worst case we’d have two gallons each of skim, two percent and whole. I was surprised to see there is a lot of stuff in the store, except for the bread aisle. Why would people run off to buy bread when a storm is coming?

Chris comes home from her golf date and we have dinner. A friend stops by. We turn on the TV. Mayor Bloomberg comes out to make a speech. He has two people on each side of him, all of them as short as he is. Behind him there are four people, taller, because it seems they are standing on a platform. But they are not. They are just taller people.

The Mayor is very serious. He has heard the reports. Now, for the first time in history, because of the possibility of flooding, he is shutting down the entire New York City subway system at noon Saturday. All bridges and tunnels will be closed too. People will be evacuated from Far Rockaway, the Battery and other low-lying areas. And it is Mandatory.

“We will have busses out to these evacuation zone to help the elderly and the disabled,” he says. “We will be shutting down the power and shutting the elevators. You must leave. If you stay and you are on the 20th floor, you’ll have to use the stairs. We can’t leave the elevators running. If we did, we will have to rescue people when they get stuck in them. This is a diversion of our precious emergency rescue people that will certainly have many more urgent things to do.”

There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that people will do this. The word “mandatory” will do this.

“If the bridges and tunnels are closed down,” our friend asks, “doesn’t that mean that no material can be transported to Long Island?”

The sun sets across the Harbor, blood red with angry yellow streaks and huge fangs. We turn on the TV. The monster is now off the coast of Georgia.

 

FRIDAY EVENING

Around 9 p.m., still working obsessively on my computer, I see a message from East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson advising all residents to evacuate the town, but it’s not mandatory, just if you want to do that.

This is ridiculous. It’s like the cavalry officer waving his sword in front of his line of troops and shouting ON THE COUNT OF THREE, CHARGE, IF YOU FEEL LIKE IT. IT’S OK WITH ME.

There is also a report that the Hampton Classic Horse Show tents have all been taken down. The show lasts 10 days. They will leave them down until the storm passes, then put them back up and continue on.

The projected path of the hurricane when it reached here was now back to Queens. And there, on the tracking map just before the hurricane hit North Carolina, it had jogged to the right and then off to the left. That explains it. But what caused it? Hit a speed bump? A flock of seagulls? A big rock?

Jerry called. He and his wife have decided to stay at their home on Shelter Island and ride it out. The ferries will probably shut down. We’ll just hunker in, he says.

Checked in with Accuweather again about midnight. I’m doing this hourly now. There is a place on the Internet where they have “retired” names of the hurricanes, like they retire shirt numbers at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. I was too tired to look. I was also too tired to look at a site that announced it would tell you the 10 top movies to watch during the hurricane. But what did happen was that with an unintentional swipe of my hand I found myself at a new Accuweather site called DOG WALKING COMFORT FORECAST.

It consisted of a picture of a happy dog and some bar graphs for how comfortable weatherwise it would be to walk your dog on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The shorter length bar graphs had low numbers in them. The longer length bar graphs had higher numbers in them. Its default was for our apartment zip code in New York City, 10028.

Saturday was a mid-size bar with the number 4 in it. “Expect only fair conditions for walking your dog,” was the caption.

Sunday had just a little bar with the number 1 in it. “Conditions are poor for walking your dog on this day.” I thought—how could it get a 1? A huge hurricane was coming. Maybe the 1 meant it was only good for walking dogs over 200 pounds.

Monday, there was a very long bar and it had a 10 in it. “Excellent. This is a very good day for walking your dog.”

Tuesday was an 8. “Conditions are good for walking your dog on this day.”

I am not making this up. Here is the link.

Accueather.com/us/ny/new-york/10017/outdoor-living.asp

Are you coming up? wife asked.
SATURDAY MORNING 

The hurricane slams into North Carolina and creates havoc in that state and further up into Virginia. Huge nine-foot surges come up the Chesapeake Bay. A commentator says the surge will be greater in bays than at the ocean itself. It gets squeezed to get through, he says.

Here’s the problem. I have now read the tide table book at our house. High tide for Three Mile Harbor takes place on Sunday morning at 10 am. And it’s not just a regular high tide. It’s an astronomic high tide greatly affected by the pull of the moon. A nine-foot surge most definitely will push the boats up onto the sidewalk, and even further. And the hurricane is scheduled to arrive Sunday at 10 am. This is a perfect storm!

Could the harbor heave its water up to our house? We are at an elevation of 17 feet. The surveyors once did the elevation. I imagine yachts crashing up onto our front deck with the broken glass of our sliders pushed into the living room.

The hurricane’s projected path still shows it passing over Queens. We had made the right decision coming out east! Ten million people will suffer. But we’ll be okay. Except for the worry of the surge.

Out on the street by the boats, people are working feverishly to get their boats tied smartly up in their slips. There is a panel truck with big signs on both sides by the slips in front of my house. It reads HURRICANE HELP – Home Prep & Clean Up. 631-433-0821.

We drive out to have a look at downtown East Hampton again. It’s a sunny morning. On the way, we pass a small tree, about 12-feet high, on Three Mile Harbor Road near the intersection of North Main Street, that has fallen over. How can that be? The hurricane has not arrived. It is all sunshine and calm.

“First victim,” my wife says.

“Died of fright,” say I.

In town, we see all the stores boarded up or bearing wide tape in crisscross fashion across their picture windows. Among the advice I’d heard during the day from commentators was do not tape up your windows, it doesn’t do any good. I also heard that all windows should be shut. Cracking a window to let the “pressure” out doesn’t work.

On Channel 11 was an old friend of mine, Mr. G., the WPIX Weatherman. I’ve known him for years. He gave his forecast. Then he said this:

“Look. I’ve been reporting the weather for 30 years. I know more about the weather than just about anybody. But I have NEVER in all these years, seen a hurricane this big at this level and moving so slowly the damage it will do will go on and on for 10 hours.”

 

SATURDAY AFTERNOON

We drove down to Main Beach in East Hampton about 5 p.m. There was a great crowd there, taking videos and pictures of the wild surf, which obliged by occasionally sending waves far up to near the pavilion. At exactly 5 p.m., the lifeguards marched out onto the sand and lifted up three giant red and black wooden signs that had been planted there facing the crowd and reading NO SWIMMING, DANGEROUS SURF and marched them back up to the beach pavilion to stow them in the equipment locker. Presumably, after 5 p.m., without the signs it was okay to swim, I guess.

 

SATURDAY EVENING

We made spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. All is calm, all is bright. The calm before the storm. There is nothing like Italian food before a storm. Nevertheless, things are stressful.

Governor Christie of New Jersey addresses us on TV. He is indeed overweight, but he is robust. He says there is going to be flooding and he says what the state is going to do about it. He also keeps saying, “we don’t need…” followed by “people driving around” or “people falling off roofs” or “people dying on the streets.” He has a lot that he doesn’t need.

On TV we watched a wonderful young comic called Louis C.K. on Showtime, dialing it up on Netflix. He is hilariously funny, and a good diversion from what is heading up toward us.

At 9 p.m., we went across the street to walk along the line of boats in their slips. The level of the harbor is quite high, just a foot below the boardwalk, so the decks of the boats are about three feet above the boardwalk. In the sky there are bolts of lightning and some thunder. We hurry back home. On the computer, I see there is an orange box over eastern Long Island. Tornado watch.

Should we have evacuated? It’s too late now.

 

SUNDAY MORNING—3 a.m.

What is happening? I get up and look out the window. In the glow of the streetlights across the street, I can see there has not yet been a surge. The boats are still tied up in their slips. But on the street, off to the right in front of some overgrowth, there are five cars parked all in a row. Nobody ever parks overnight in front of the boats. What is this? I remembered seeing them arriving there just before we went to bed. And they are still there. What is this all about?

I can only theorize. Maybe the people who drove these cars here are sleeping in the boats. It would make sense. Things are going to get real bad in the morning. They’d be aboard. They could start them up, back them out and head out to sea to drop anchor and ride out the storm, then come back when it’s over.

I go back to bed. Then it occurs to me why the cars are not parked adjacent to the boats, but down from them. If the boats come over the boardwalk, and if cars are right there, they will… could this be?

 

SUNDAY MORNING—7 a.m.

We lay in bed a long time, listening to the sound of a soft rain on the windows. The wind comes up for some gusts then settles back down. Then there are more gusts. Pussycat gusts. After awhile, I get up and go to the window. The boats are rising. But the winds are a tropical storm out there. Thirty miles an hour or so. Not hurricane strength. It’s a nice pussycat Hurricane. I go online. There is an orange box over eastern Long Island. Tornado watch, it says inside the box. Again. How about an earthquake again? We haven’t had one of those in a week.

I tell my wife that I am getting dressed and going downtown to see what the damage is.

“You aren’t supposed to go outdoors,” she says. She reminds me that the hurricane is supposed to arrive at 10. “It’s not even here yet.”

“I’m a reporter,” I tell her.

She rolls over and snuggles under the covers. I shrug and get back in and fall asleep with her.

I look out the window just before 10 and see trees bending a little sideways as a brief gust comes through with a little whine. Then comes the surge, right on schedule. The hurricane is coming up through New Jersey, has crossed Staten Island and is making a landing at Coney Island. It’s here. So says my computer.

But the surge in front of our house is at most four feet. That’s it. The boats not only don’t make the boardwalk, they don’t even flinch. Some hurricane.

I go downstairs and turn on the TV. Channel 2, New York. It’s a reporter in the Battery downtown who says that the sea never rose up over the seawall there.

“No people are about,” she says. “And just a few branches have fallen from the trees.” She jumps. Looks offscreen. “There’s one that almost hit me now.”

My wife comes down. I wonder if we got The New York Times, she asks? I look at her amazed. We get the Times delivered on weekends, in a plastic sleeve down at the end of the driveway. How could this possibly have been delivered?

In a lull in the storm, I run down to the bottom of the driveway. It’s there. A deliveryman has come by and tossed it out the side of his car at approximately 5 a.m. as he or she drove up the street.

“Not even the worse for wear,” I say bringing it into the livingroom. I pull it out of its sleeve and I read what was written in it, which went down to the pressroom at midnight. I know the drill. I used to work there.

The words leap out. “Fear. Ferocious. Howling winds. Hammering rains.” That was at midnight.

 

One Man’s 4 Day Adventure With a Monster the Size of Texas


SUNDAY AFTERNOON

My son David, having driven through the storm, arrives from Southampton. He wants to post some hurricane videos on danshamptons.com and his Internet is down. Also he has no electricity. The generator on the side of his apartment building on Leland Avenue exploded he says.

“It’s pretty bad out there,” he says. And so we go for a ride.

The truth is that in front of my house there may not have been much of a hurricane, but the rest of the Hamptons has downed trees everywhere, damage to homes, people without electricity. On the radio in my car WLNG says that nearly 450,000 people on Long Island are without power, and it could take four or five days to get it back on. The East Hampton Main Beach pavilion is completely undermined by the ocean surge and it is too dangerous even to go down there. Mill Hill Lane is impassable from falling trees. The world is a mess. It wasn’t much of a storm, but it went on and on and on and things gave way just as Mr. G had said they would.

I am astonished. My wife and I were just lucky to be holed up in this little dream on Three Mile Harbor Road where almost nothing happened for all this time.

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