Hurricane Irene Packs a Punch

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But Floral Park and Stewart Manor are not down for the count

As Hurricane Irene blew through our area on Sunday, Aug. 28, she packed a punch but it was not quite the blow many Floral Park and Stewart Manor residents had expected. After days of media hype about Irene prior to her arrival, residents had visions of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina – which did not affect our region but left New Orleans under water – dancing in their heads.

“I’m disappointed in the storm because of all of the preparations I made,” quipped a Floral Park resident who requested anonymity. On a more serious note, “I’m thankful no one got hurt,” he said, as he worked to move his lawn furniture from his garage, untie his tomato plants and reinsert his lawn ornaments into the ground. “We were lucky.”

While the Floral Park resident is thankful “nothing happened,” he’s disappointed in the media, which “created unnecessary anxiety,” he said. Indeed, as the hurricane moved up the East Coast on Saturday, Aug. 27, major television networks had ongoing coverage, which seemed to some like the countdown to New Year’s.

Conversely, it was that media frenzy that prompted a Stewart Manor resident, who also requested anonymity, to make sure she was well-prepared. Loading up on batteries, flashlights, lanterns, water and nonperishable food – even if, in the end, she didn’t need everything — took the anxiety out of the situation for her, she said.

Better to be safe than sorry, many agreed. “We even slept in the basement due to the tornado warnings,” said Stewart Manor resident Jennifer Dennean, who was among the handful of Stewart Manor residents who lost power from 3:30 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 28, until 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 31.

“I pretty much followed the instructions we received on the news and stocked up on nonperishable food and water,” said Nancy MacFall, who also resides in Stewart Manor. “I had a couple of camping lanterns, flashlights and candles, but my quest for ‘D’ batteries was unsuccessful. Fortunately for us, a generous neighbor gave us the batteries we needed so we were all set,” MacFall said.

Indeed, looking out for one another’s neighbors was the message local government officials drove home both before and after the storm. For his part, Stewart Manor Mayor James Kelly communicated with residents early and often via e-mail blasts. On Friday, Aug. 26, he reminded residents to “check on elderly neighbors.” His subsequent messages on Saturday and throughout the post-storm cleanup reminded residents to “Please share this information with any neighbor that you think may not have been able to receive this information.”

Senator Jack Martins also stressed the importance of neighbors helping neighbors. “Our local fire departments, highway department and first responders have done a magnificent job. Locally, we had to deal with a lot of down wires, flooding and tree damage. Everywhere you turned, our volunteers were right there helping their fellow neighbors in a very serious situation. They not only have our heartfelt thanks, they have our admiration,” he said. “As our first responders continue to offer assistance to our greater community, I would like to encourage everyone to check on their neighbors, especially our seniors,” he added.

Leading up to the storm, the boards of trustees of Floral Park and Stewart Manor held respective emergency meetings, and the department of public works for each village started preparations as early as five days before the hurricane hit. In Floral Park, the DPW started preparations on Tuesday, Aug. 23, by vacuuming out storm drains, said trustee Dominick Longobardi. Throughout the week, the department took down hanging baskets, set out horse barricades throughout the village so they’d be available for immediate use to block off hazardous streets, prepped tools such as chainsaws, and gassed up village trucks. The Floral Park Public Works garage remained open from Friday afternoon through Sunday.

The Stewart Manor Board of Trustees held an emergency meeting on Thursday night, Aug. 25, “to review the emergency action plan, and to review the steps that had been taken up to that point, which included our fire department and DPW readying emergency equipment and generators,” said Mayor Kelly. “On Friday we coordinated emergency scheduling of our personnel, both paid staff and volunteers, and on Saturday we activated our Incident Command Center to better coordinate the efforts of our emergency crews throughout the storm and afterwards,” he added.

As with the Floral Park DPW, the Stewart Manor Fire Department and DPW crews were on standby before the storm and were “deployed as soon as the brunt of the storm passed, often operating jointly with the fire department to secure branches that posed a hazard,” said Kelly. “Our fire department responded to numerous calls throughout the night, with the first call coming in at about 8:30 p.m. The fire department was able to identify several critical areas that the DPW was able to address as soon as they were able to go out,” he said.

Trustee Longobardi, Floral Park Mayor Thomas Tweedy and other village officials remained at Floral Park Village Hall throughout the night on Saturday, Aug. 27, while the Floral Park Fire Department had five or six firefighters at each fire company on call around the clock in the hours leading up to and during the storm, Longobardi said. As for communications immediately before, during and after the storm, Four Village Studio operations manager Jimmy Green and crew member Veronica Venturi stayed at the studio overnight to be at the ready to deliver emergency communications.

While both villages experienced downed utility poles, wires and trees – which resulted in power loss for many residents – officials took appropriate action before the storm to ensure residents’ safety and are grateful for the clean-up efforts of village workers and volunteers. “I think we received a very bad storm, but we were very well prepared, thanks to many of the village workers and volunteers who spent a lot of time and effort prior to the storm to make sure residents were safe,” Longobardi said. “Special thanks to former [Floral Park] fire chief Joe O’Grady and the heads of emergency management for our village, Joe Terranova and former mayor and fire chief Kevin Greene. I’d also like to thank our police, fire, village hall, public works and park staff, who all played key roles in protecting our residents,” he added.

“Clearly the potential for greater damage to the village was there,” said Mayor Kelly. “We were fortunate that the worst part of the storm struck during the day, so our crews didn’t have to begin clean-up efforts in darkness, which would have made it considerably more difficult and dangerous … Never before as a village had we faced a threat such as this, or had to prepare and respond to such an extensive degree … Our village board, administrative staff, fire department, and DPW staff all worked exceptionally well together to minimize the storm’s impact on the village. As with any operation like this, we will review our response and update our Emergency Action Plan where necessary in order to maintain and improve on our state of readiness,” Kelly said.

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