For Brookhaven, a town that stretches from the Long Island Sound to the Atlantic Ocean, the damage caused by tropical storm Irene was just as widespread. And both during and after the storm, Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko spent time driving around the town to continually assess the damage.
Armed with radios and cell phones to stay in contact with emergency contacts and crews, Lesko and driver Tony Gallino, commissioner of public safety, visited towns from Patchogue to Port Jefferson, Setauket to Cedar Beach, Mt. Sinai to Mastic Beach. He visited the shelters at Longwood and Sachem East High School, delivering milk and fans where needed. And Sunday afternoon, Lesko invited Patch to ride along with him as he toured the town.
The drive began with a trip to the Suffolk County Emergency Operations Center in Yaphank, where county executive Steve Levy gave a press conference at 1 p.m. to sum up the state of the county: essentially not good due to the numerous power outages and other damage, but many people seemed to have listened to the municipalities' warnings and prepared accordingly, and it could have been much, much worse.
Lesko spoke at the press conference, praising the state, county, towns, villages, and first responding agencies for collaborating so smoothly during the state of emergency.
"This is really all levels of government working well together," he said.
When the press conference was over, we got back in the car and headed through Middle Island up to the Cedar Beach peninsula. Along the way, we drove through the intersection of Middle Country Road, Rocky Point Road, and Miller Place-Yaphank Road: one of many nonworking traffic lights in town. On the radio, Lesko calls for assistance for that intersection, saying it was particularly dangerous. It was typical of the afternoon, as he and Gallino stayed in constant contact with their colleagues via radio and cell phone.
At Cedar Beach, Lesko and Gallino were surprised to find dozens of people at the beach: some tending to their boats, some taking walks with their families or dogs, fishing off the flats – and three teenage boys with body boards in tow, hoping for a good time in the water – despite the fact that the roadways and driveways remained flooded and debris still remained after water breached the parking lots.
Bullhorn announcements were in order as we drove throughout the park: "Folks, the park is closed. Please leave immediately," Gallino said.
"I do understsand they want to check their boats," Lesko said, but the damage still needs to be assessed before the area can be deemed completely safe.
We passed downed tree after downed tree. For the most part nothing was completely blocking the road still, thanks to the "push and clear" method of cleanup Lesko's crews had undertaken. We passed dozens of people clearing debris from their yards. But as we drove through Mt. Sinai, what looked like half of a moderately large tree was stuck suspended between power lines directly above North Country Road at Crystal Brook Hollow, closing the intersection to regular traffic.
In Port Jefferson Village, stores had begun to reopen and the flood waters had receded. People were walking around as if a tropical storm hadn't just raged through town.
"It's amazing how quickly it goes away," Lesko said.
"Doesn't look like a lot of damage to the new walkways we just put in," Gallino said.
But the destruction was a little more evident in Strong's Neck, where a large tree had fallen on top of the roof of an historic home on Dyke Road. We pulled over, and Lesko got out to talk to the homeowners, who were standing in front of the home watching the dilemma unfolding in front of them: they'd hired a contractor to remove the tree, but since the tree was heavily leaning on power lines, the workers couldn't act without LIPA's assistance. As the tree threatened to collapse the roof of the home, Lesko made several calls on behalf of the homeowners to try and expedite assistance.
On the way back to Town Hall, where an important conference call was to take place, a quick stop for coffee yielded no results: 7-11 on Pond Path in Setauket had no power. Luckily, a 7-11 in Farmingville was among many nearby stores which were up and running.
At about 3 p.m., Lesko he had issued for parts of the town. In a single day, he'd traveled more than 150 miles around town.
"We've just about covered all of Brookhaven today," Lesko said.