Walter On Riverhead After Sandy: 'God Bless This Town'

Supervisor said Riverhead came through Sandy in much better shape than other towns.

In a time of crisis, Riverhead Town came together.

Riverhead officials, at a town board work session on Thursday, recapped how the town was faring three days after Hurricane Sandy battered the area.

But, according to Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter, as far as power, residents were packed less of a punch than those living in neighboring municipalities.

"The Town of Riverhead fared much better in power outages," Walter said. The supervisor said, according to the Long Island Power Authority, at the height of Hurricane Sandy, 60 percent of Riverhead residents lost power, compared to 90 percent across Long Island.

"God bless this town. We had no deaths, no serious injuries," Walter said.

The town, the supervisor added, did suffer damage to areas along the north shore; areas in South Jamesport and Aquebogue were also hit hard, as were downtown businesses that were underwater.

Currently, as of Thursday morning, in Wading River, Walter said 216 residents were still without power, in Calverton, 2397 were still in the dark, with 1062 still waiting for LIPA crews in downtown Riverhead. In Northville, 425 were still without power and in Aquebogue, 694 were still without electricity.

Walter said he found it hard to believe that LIPA said Thursday morning in South Jamesport, only eight individuals were without power.

The supervisor's house is still without power.

Looking back over the past few days, Walter said the list of those to thank was long. Businesses including Walmart and Target donated pillows to the town shelter. The Riverhead senior center staff, under the supervision of executive director Judy Doll, made 2100 meals in 36 hours for those finding shelter at Riverhead High School.

Other businesses, Walter said, donated cases of water and other supplies. "It was just a tremendous outpouring," he said.

Town officials thanked Pastor Jerry Halpin from North Shore Christian Church and his congregation for their tremendous help at the emergency shelter.

Riverhead Central School Superintendent Nancy Carney also helped to ensure the shelter was set up "flawlessly," Walter said.

Of the shelter coordination, Walter said the volunteers helped served meals, including turkey dinners, and coffee. "It went off without a hitch," Walter said.

For those who still have no power, Walter said a heating center will be open Thursday at the Riverhead Senior Center on Shade Tree Lane in Aquebogue.

Residents who want to get to the warming center but have no transportation can call Riverhead Town; officials wil arrange for transportation.

Some seniors living at the Glenwood Village mobile home park -- 25 percent of residents there still have no power -- were seeking heat on Wednesday, Walter said; they went to the still-operating county shelter set up at Eastport-South Manor High School.

"Check on your neighbors, check on the elderly," Walter advised.

The supervisor reported that the Riverhead water district is up and running, with no emergencies or alerts; Peconic Bay Medical Center is also in great shape, Walter said.

Walter said residents needing to report LIPA outages should call 1-800-490-0075.

Highway Superintendent George "Gio" Woodson also gave an update on clean-up; Walter said residents should keep storm debris separate from leaves.

"You guys are doing a phenomenal job," Walter said. 

Walter said Riverhead Town will suspend building permit fees for 30 days for storm-related damage only.

Walter went over a rough estimate of damage costs to the town, which could total millions. Grangebel Park, beaches, the East End Arts Council, the Peconic Riverfront, the senior center, and the Sound Avenue Preserve are all included in the long list of town sites that saw damage, Walter said. 

Emergency dredging is critical in the Creek Road area of Wading River, Walter said. 

Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said the many meetings between the town, ambulance corp., fire departments, hospital and school district -- and the early start to coordination -- led to the success the town saw at navigating the storm.

Riverhead Town is still under a state of emergency, Hegermiller said, and may remain so for the full five day period.

Residents can re-occupy their homes, he said. "But if you haven't been inside, make sure you take every precaution," Hegermiller said. "Consider wires live and energized."

Hegermiller discussed the fire department brush truck that was almost lost during Hurricane Sandy -- and said the boat rescue was necessary because residents failed to follow mandatory evacuation warnings.

"If, God forbid, this happens again, please heed the warnings," he said. "When we put the warning out, we're not kidding. If we say to get out -- get out."

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said the soil is being tested at the town's community garden to see if it is safe.

Hegermiller also said residents hoping to jumpstart the Federal Emergency Management Agency process should call FEMA at 1-800-621-3362 to start the application process.

Walter thanked everyone who worked to keep residents safe during the storm. "This was an amazing coordinated effort, to bring all this together," he said. "A lot of people sacrificed a lot of their time to make this happen."


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