As hurricane Irene steams north, Long Island braces for impact

Storm tracks suggest that hurricane Irene could hit Long Island late Sunday. Residents are emptying basements and moving cars in preparation for a storm surge made worse by high tide.

Seth Wenig/AP
Construction workers disassemble a temporary building set up for an upcoming surfing competition in Long Beach, N.Y., Thursday. The area could lie in the path of hurricane Irene.

After Hurricane Irene skims North Carolina, weather forecasters think it might head right for New York's Long Island.

This means residents in shoreside places like Oyster Bay, Bayville, and Bayshore are busy battening down as much as they can before the storm hits – perhaps late Sunday afternoon into Monday if it stays on its current course.

One of those trying to get ready for the storm is Sherlock Holmes (yes, that’s his name), who keeps his boat in Oyster Bay harbor. As he rushes into the Oyster Bay Marine Center (OBMC), he announces he had taken all the sails off his 45-foot sailboat, removed all the canvas-work, and tied down anything that was loose. He is trusting that his mooring will keep the boat safe – without him on board.

“I’ve been on the boat in 60 knots of wind [69 miles per hour], and I don’t want to be on it this time,” he says.

The manager of OBMC, John McGrane, says he is trying to help people get their boats ready for what is expected to be heavy wind and seas even in the protected harbor. “You can’t haul 200 boats out of the water,” says Mr. McGrane, who thinks the worst winds he has experienced were 60 to 70 miles per hour. “But you can prepare 200 boats.”

At OBMC itself, McGrane says workers are moving everything off the shop floor. “We are expecting flooding,” he says.

McGrane lives in nearby Bayville, which has experienced flooding in past storms. He says his wife is busy moving everything out of their basement to their first floor. But it’s not clear if that will even be high enough, because the storm is coinciding with the new moon tides, which will add an extra three feet of water.

The last time a storm coincided with a new moon tide, the storm hit at low tide, says McGrane. But “the combination of the storm and the tide made it look like high tide,” he recalls. “If Irene hits at high tide, combined with the effect of the moon, it could result in 15 feet of water.”

That much water would be bad for people who live in a place like Bayville, which sits right on Long Island Sound.

John and Joan Imhoff, who live in Bayville, are preparing for flooding. “We expect water in our basement,” says Ms. Imhoff, who says they moved their furnace after a prior flood to an upper floor just to avoid future damage.

Mr. Imhoff recalls that in the Nor'easter of 1991 – famous for being the subject of the book, "The Perfect Storm" – there was four feet of water on their street. That’s one of the reasons why he plans to move his car to higher ground. “We lost a car in that storm,” he recalls.

Local businesses are also starting to prepare for hurricane Irene. At Frank M. Flower & Sons, which harvests oysters in the bay, David Relyea, the co-owner, is racing to move juvenile oysters from his hatchery onto the bottom of the bay. “They have a better chance of surviving down there,” he says. “Everything else we’re tying down.”

In Bayshore, on the ocean side of Long Island, Bill Cook of Long Island Yacht Sales says he has been pulling as many boats out of the water as possible. His worry is the storm surge associated with hurricanes.

“I’ve been through a few of these surges,” says Mr. Cook. “And it will be calm and then all of a sudden it just comes right at you like a wall.”

But, he says, even worse is when the water starts to recede. “The undercurrent comes back and that’s where your damage comes,” says Cook.

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