It's all hands on deck as Riverhead Town battens down the hatches for Hurricane Sandy.
An emergency operations center meeting was held on Saturday at Riverhead Town Hall, with, department heads, Peconic Bay Medical Center President and CEO Andrew Mitchell, Riverhead School Superintendent Nancy Carney, Police Chief David Hegermiller, and Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance members joining forces to protect residents.
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said he and Hegermiller had just spoken with the Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services, and was told that the storm has the potential to slam the Riverhead area with eight-foot storm surges on Long Island Sound.
Heavy sustained winds of 40 to 60 miles per hour, with gusts of 80 miles per hour, are expected, Hegermiller said.
Walter said if the storm continues to pose a danger, he will likely order mandatory evacuation of unstrapped mobile homes, with non-mandatory evacuation of low-lying areas, similar to what was done during Hurricane Irene. The orders are likely to come Sunday at 5 p.m.
So far, Riverhead High School has not been designated as a Red Cross Shelter, Walter said; the Red Cross has decided so far to open shelters in Hampton Bays, Brentwood and Sachem.
The decision not to designate Riverhead High School during the first go-round, Walter said, was "stunning."
Walter and Hegermiller said they will reach out to the Red Cross to open Riverhead as a shelter. In the meantime, preparations are being made -- food will be ordered Saturday -- to open the shelter regardless.
Depending on the weather, Riverhead Town will make a decision on whether to open Riverhead High School as a shelter at 11 a.m. on Sunday, when staffers will reconvene.
Carney said if the town decided to open the shelter without the Red Cross, issues such as staffing must be considered.
Mitchell said the hospital could provide nursing services to the Riverhead High School shelter, but the Hampton Bays shelter would be too far geographically.
Walter said during Hurricane Irene, approximately 300 people utilized the shelter, and he leaned toward opening a shelter at Riverhead High School. "Relying on someone else or Hampton Bays is not necessarily something that makes me overly confident," he said.
The Riverhead School district has not yet made a decision on whether or not to close on Monday; that decision will be made within 12 hours, Carney said. But, she said, "We're mobilized. We're all set if need be."
The full moon, Hegermiller said, will mean higher tide surges.
"This is going to be a much longer duration storm," Walter said.
"It's a huge storm," Hegermiller agreed, with heavy rains, flooding, and tides eight feet above normal expected in areas such as Port Jefferson.
The storm, he added, is expected to last three tide cycles, with the last occurring on Tuesday morning. "After that I think we should be out of the woods."
He added that residents can find pet-friendly shelters both at the eastern campus of Suffolk County Community College and at the Brentwood shelter. The John J. Foley Center in Yaphank will be open for individuals with special needs. Suffolk County Parks are expected to close Sunday, Hegermiller said.
Carney said if the high school is set up as a shelter, an interpreter would be helpful, as well as nursing assistance from PBMC to help those in wheelchairs or with medical issues. Staffing, she added, is another concern.
Walter said calls would be put out to both members of the town's Republican and Democratic committees.
Department heads weighed in, and said generators are ready and Town Hall equipped with internet access and lights, in the event of power loss. Calls have been made to boaters to prepare their vessels.
Hegermiller said anyone in low-lying areas should be prepared to evacuate before dark on Sunday and should go stay with family and friends. Areas such as Creek Road and Meetinghouse Creek in Jamesport can be expected to flood, Walter said.
PBMC, Mitchell said, could also be called upon to take in patients from Eastern Long Island Hospital or Southampton Hospital if those areas need to evacuate.
Residents are urged to take in any signs, Halloween decorations, or unsecured objects on their property. Pumpkin-picking signs, Mitchell said, could become "missiles" in high winds.
Town officials will reconvene Sunday at 11 a.m. to make a final decision regarding opening the Riverhead shelter.
"Let's just hope it blows away," Walter said.