Editorial: We were ready for Irene, but more needs to be done

Never in recent history have we seen a region so prepared for the potential onslaught of a predicted natural disaster.

From town and county governments, to volunteer emergency services, to hospitals and other nonprofit groups such as the Red Cross and Suffolk County SPCA, it was all hands on deck on the most local of levels.

There’s no doubt that if Irene hadn’t hit land in North Carolina, and possibly made landfall here as a powerful Category 2 hurricane, these efforts would have greatly diminished the loss of human life. All who were willing to risk their own lives to help others had such a storm hit, should be commended. All who sacrificed their time to tend to the evacuees who poured into shelters, as well as their children and pets, should also be commended as well.

And while some will point the finger at the Long Island Power Authority for being unprepared — and slow to act — after Irene swept through the area, consider that over 300,000 households in Connecticut were still without power Wednesday morning.

Westchester County businesses and homeowners were dealing with similar problems. So it wasn’t as if power authorities from neighboring suburban counties in the region were humming along while ours was tripping over itself. But the slow response to prolonged power outages, here and elsewhere, is a bit unsettling.

At this point, we can only hope that LIPA officials will learn from any mistakes they made and improve, because a more powerful storm could have seen the region go dark for even more days, weeks or even months. We fully expect our elected leaders will call for full investigations of what went wrong, then demand the findings be made public so all can provide input.

Meantime, the next few days will be agonizing for some of our neighbors and businesspeople, financially and otherwise. And potentially dangerous for others who may run the risk of falling in a poorly lit house or seeing their medication spoil.

As of noon Wednesday, according to LIPA figures, 3,865 businesses or households, or about 20 percent of LIPA’s Riverhead Town customers, were still out of power. In Southold Town, 45 percent of LIPA’s customers, or 6,684 ratepayers, remained in the dark.

That’s a lot of people. But we know they’ll be getting help from their relatives, friends and neighbors. Because we are a people who pull together.

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