The great escape from Fire Island has begun as Hurricane Irene has its eye on Suffolk County.
Officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for the 17 communities on the western half of the barrier island in the towns of Islip and Brookhaven starting at 3 p.m. Friday. Flood-prone areas on both the north and south shores of Long Island may be ordered to evacuate Saturday, officials said.
“We are asking everyone to take the time, secure their homes, and then get off Fire Island well in advance of this storm and the potential destruction it may bring,” Islip Town Supervisor Phil Nolan said.
Once the order takes effect, ferries will only allow homeowners to cross the Great South Bay to secure their houses. Ferries are expected to stop running between 3-4 p.m. Saturday, although service may be cut off sooner if the storm is expected to arrive sooner, officials said.
“I’ve stayed through all of the hurricanes that have hit in the past, but this time I’m leaving,” said a resident of Ocean Beach, the unofficial capital of Fire Island. Residents and visitors were streaming off the island on ferries Friday morning.
A spokesman for the Ocean Beach Fire Department said once the evacuation is complete, Long Island Power Authority may cut off electricity Fire Island, which would also limit the availability of water. The department is moving some of its fire equipment off-island in preparation.
The mandatory evacuation order came a day after officials issued a voluntary evacuation for the island.
It also came shortly after Nassau County officials issued a voluntary evacuation order for the barrier island of Long Beach, with the likelihood that a mandatory evacuation could follow.
Irene, a powerful category 2 storm, is expected to approach New York late Saturday or early Sunday.