The Next Great Hurricane Will Hit Long Island Sooner or Later

by April Jimenez
Long Island Press September 21 - 27 2006

Nobody could ever have imagined when they saw the televised images of thousands of displaced people - stranded, homeless and pleading for water and food - that such a situation could happen in America. But it did, and since then, those pictures of disaster torn areas in the Gulf have been seared into the public consciousness: families awaiting rescue atop roofs, barely clothed children sleeping in parking lots, hysterical mothers frantically clawing through fiery rubble for their babies, dead bodies floating in polluted, flooded streets. Many Long Islanders have asked, "Could this happen to me?"    Sadly, most probably will not be.

When it comes to the wrath of nature - in the form of hurricanes or other disasters - the odds are stacked against us. Many Long Islanders think of California as earthquake central for this country - not realizing that New York is riddled with active geological faults. But the probability of a major earthquake occurring in the Eastern United States before the year 2010 in nearly 100 percent, according to the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research.

Another sobering possibility is that a Katrina-magnitude storm will strike the New York metropolitan area. The likelihood that a major hurricane (Category 3 or higher) would hit New York City and Long Island in 2006 is one in 11, according to Scott A. Mandia, professor of physical sciences at Suffolk Community College. Fortunately, since September - the month often cited as the "safe zone" - is nearly over, we are conceivably out of danger in 2006, according to Mandia.

But that is not necessarily a good thing. "The worst possible thing  that could happen is for us to have a minimal season this year, because people were expecting an active season," says Mandia. "It's like the boy who cried wolf! Now, next year people will be too relaxed, and that is very dangerous."

In measuring the economic impact of hurricanes, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) states that seven of the 10 most expensive hurricanes in U.S. history occurred in the 14 months from August 2004 to October 2005 (Katrina, Rita, Wilma, Charley, Ivan, Frances and Jeanne).

"The more sobering statistic is, in the next 50 years, we are at a 26percent probability that we'll be hit with a major hurricane. That is one in four," says Mandia.

The Island was hit with its own Katrina type storm nearly 70 years ago, on September 21, 1938. The Long Island Express, a Category 3 hurricane, devastated the East End and killed 600 people on Long Island and New England. Peak gusts hit Long Island at over 100 mph and peak storm surges were 12 feet above normal high tide. To place this in perspective, Hurricane Gloria, which paralyzed some of LI for up to 10 days in 1985, made landfall in Long Island as a Category 2, with winds reaching up to 85 mph and storm surges peaking at 6.9 feet. Simply put, a Category 3 storm would totally ravage Long Island. "If that [ the 1938 hurricane] were to hit today in the same area, it would rival Hurricane Andrew {the Category 5 hurricane that hit southern Florida and the Bahamas in 1992), if not more so, as far as damage done," Mike Wiley, the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service's forecasting office on Long Island, told the Wall Street Journal. If the most powerful winds hit closer to New York City, he added, "It would surpass the damage that we just saw with Hurricane Katrina." As he states it," statistically, we're overdue."


Watchful of the intense activity swirling around the eyes of the many hurricanes of the last few years, the federal government has designated September as National Preparedness Month.

"We've never had a massive evacuation [on Long Island]. We need to plan for everything." says Terence Winters, director of emergency planning at the Nassau OEM. The OEM and local government are preparing for as many as 30 possible disaster scenarios. And the government doesn't want to leave anything to chance: "We practice a lot of exercises, read the action reports from Katrina and try to fill the gaps," says Winters. Part of that planning is to educate the public by hosting preparedness presentations and sending out e-mail alerts regarding not just hurricanes, but other potential disasters, to media outlets such as newspapers and local FM radio stations.

The latest Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] e-mail alert warns, "You should know how to respond to severe weather or any disaster that could occur in your area -hurricanes, earthquakes, extreme cold, flooding or terrorism."

Although disaster evacuation might not be necessary for everyone on L.I., it certainly would be crucial for some. Those who reside on barrier beach Fire Island would need to be evacuated 36 hours before the onset of gale-force winds, according to Suffolk County Commissioner of Fire Rescue and Emergency Services Joseph Williams.

"If your home gets flooded now by a north-easter, then there is a good possibility you'll have a problem with a hurricane," says Williams.


Hurricanes may be first on Long Islanders' minds. But, says Winters, we can't ignore other possible catastrophes, such as a civil or technological disturbance, plane crash or health emergency.

"We need to take an all hazards approach, so no matter what happens, we are covered," says Winters.

State Senator Michael Balboni (R-East Williston), who chairs the Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs, says, "Long Islanders, after Katrina, are looking at their own families and are willing to ask the government the tough questions - the specifics like, "Where are the shelters? How many people will they house? and what to expect."

Nicole Watkins is one Long Islander who is confident that she is ready for any disaster. "I'm always prepared. I always have extra cans of food and jugs of water in the house because you never know, especially with the weather we've had," says the 25-year-old East Meadow homeowner.

Today, the first step residents should take is to print out the disaster readiness pages from the Nassau OEM or Suffolk OEM websites, along with other preparedness guidelines; computers and printers would be inoperable were a major catastrophe to knock out electrical power. Brochures can be downloaded at both county OEM websites and at, the U.S. Office of Homeland Security Disaster Preparedness Month website. Information can also be picked up in supermarkets such as Waldbaum's, Stop and Shop, King Kullen, C-Town and Pathmark.

Next, residents should assemble an emergency supply kit (also known as a "Go-Kit" that includes food and essential items. (See "Getting your Go-Kit Ready", page 4 of the brochure). A printed copy of the disaster readiness guidelines mentioned above should be kept with the Go-Kit.

Other ways people can prepare are by finding out what kind of disaster, natural or manmade is most likely to occur in their area by doing some pre-planning. Suffolk County's OEM website has a hurricane inundation prediction and sheltering tool. In about a month, residents will be able to enter their home address at the website, which will list the closest shelter and the recommended evacuation route. If roads are impassable, there will also be a list of predetermined pickup sites for those who cannot drive themselves to a shelter, according to Suffolk Fire Commissioner Williams. He warns, though, that while locating shelters ahead of time is helpful, residents should make a more stable plan before heading to a shelter.

"You wind up in a shelter, you don't plan on it," says Williams. He suggests making arrangements to stay with friend or family who are not in harm's way.


Residents also need to plan for the welfare of their pets. The Safe Pet Coalition, Inc., a Locust Valley animal disaster relief organization, notes that for health reasons, Red Cross shelters do not accept pets, and urges residents to prepare a disaster plan for their trusted companions. Contact Pet Safe to find out what shelters in your area will accept pets during a disaster; keep that number with your emergency phone numbers and Go-Kit so you will have access to it.

Before Katrina, Nassau County had no plans to shelter pets. Senator Balboni co-sponsored the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006 (PETS Act), which requires state and local governments to establish evacuation and sheltering standards for household pets and service animals, as part of their disaster prepatredness planning. The legislation passed in both the House and Senate. :A big number of those who perished down South did so because they wouldn't leave their pets. We want to keep that from happening," says Winters.

Keep in mind that keeping your animals safe requires some documentation. Most animal shelters ask that pet owners bring the animal's cage and food as well as proof of vaccination, according to Williams. Check with your specific shelter to be sure of requirements.


"Your family may not be together when disaster strikes. Plan how you will contact one another, and review what you will do in different situations," warns

Families and roommates should develop an emergency communication plan. That should include have a pre-established meeting place. Inquiring about pre-existing emergency plans at places where the people in your household spend time - such as work, day care or school - is another way to be safe.

With local telephone lines jammed with calls in the event of a disaster, it may be easier to make a long distance phone call than to call across town, so an out of town contact may be a better avenue of communication for separated family members. Establish that contact in advance; give each family member an emergency pre-paid phone card and that contact's phone number.

Since power failures would be likely in the event of a major disaster, residents should have at least one non- cordless landline telephone at home, which will work even if electricity fails. Stocking up on extra cell-phone chargers  for your car is also a good idea, to charge cell phones if the electricity is out.


Many experts have expressed the general sentiment that the public is very under-prepared. But Balboni disagrees.

"We are much better prepared now than we were even a year ago. We [ L. I. government and residents] have an awareness now of sheltering special needs, evacuation, communication and coordination," he says.

He adds that preparation is absolutely key, not just for hurricanes, but for any catastrophe. "We should recognize that our own families have roles to play. There is a lot of information available and people should take advantage of that."

We may not be able to control Mother Nature, but authorities want us to at least do our homework and be ready to face whatever she may throw at us.


U.S. Department of Homeland Security

U.S. Government Official Web Portal:

Federal Emergency Management Agency:

Pet Safe Coalition, Inc.

Nassau County Office of Emergency Management:

Suffolk County Office of Emergency Management:


Your Go-Kit doesn't have to be fancy; pick something up each time you go to the supermarket. Residents should be self-sufficient for at least three days, which entails having shelter and first aid, food, water, and sanitation supplies on hand.

"It's like you are going camping. Bring the things you would take camping; socks, eyeglasses, a book to read, medications---the essentials," says Terence Winters of Nassau's OEM.


● Water - One gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation.

● Food - At least a three days supply of non-perishable food

● Radio - Battery powered or hand crank radio and a National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio (to receive emergency weather broadcasts from NOAA network stations nearby) with tone alert and extra batteries for both

● Flashlight and extra batteries

● A complete first aid kit

● A whistle for signal for help

● A dust mask to filter contaminated air, plastic sheeting and duct tape

● Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation

● Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities

● Can opener for canned food

● Local maps


● Prescription medications and eyeglasses

● Infant formula and diapers

● Important documents such as insurance policies, identification and bank account records, packed it waterproof, portable containers

● Sleeping bag and/or warm blankets for each family member

● Complete change of clothing, including long-sleeved shirts, long pants and sturdy shoes

● Matches in a waterproof container

● Paper cups/plates, plastic utensils and paper towels

● Pen/pencil and paper

●  Books, games, puzzles or activities to keep family members occupied

● Pet food/medicines and water

● Stock up on extra gas or keep a full tank in case of emergency evacuation or if gas stations are not accessible