Suffolk County officials are bracing for the Atlantic Ocean storm surge to breach one of the barrier beaches as Hurricane Sandy gained steam before it was expected to make landfall during the astronomically high tide Monday evening.
“The potential for a breach has never been greater,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone told reporters during a briefing at the Office of Emergency Management. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) called a breach “our worst fear.”
The prediction came after Bellone said Suffolk County police lost an SUV in floodwater while rescuing 14 of the up to 100 people estimated to still be on Fire Island despite the evacuation order.
Out of nine who police called in advance, five were saved. Even with U.S. Coast Guard, Suffolk deputy sheriffs, Saltaire and Islip firefighters, they could only save people west of Ocean Beach.
Residents were also pulled from flooded homes in West Islip and Lindenhurst while firefighters were also battling blazes around Babylon township and in flooded Freeport.
About 600 people were had gone to one of the eight shelters open island-wide as of 2 p.m. More are expected as the storm worsens, and after it passes. Over 14,000 Suffolk residents were called via the Code Red reverse 911 system.
Bellone and Bishop said that contingency plans are being developed with the Westhampton-based 106th Air Rescue Wing for emergency response efforts once conditions deteriorate further. National Guard troops are being deployed across Long Island as well.
More than 239,000 of the Long Island Power Authority’s 1 million customers were without power as of 4:18 p.m.
“This is an example of why it is critically important when mandatory evacuation orders are given, you heed those orders,” Bellone said.
“Long Islanders are somewhat complacent when it comes to these storms,” he noted. “There’s a sense of we’ve seen it all.”
When contemplating the possibility of lives being lost, he added: “I know that all of us keep everyone, as we get to the heart of this storm, in our prayers.”