Assessing the damage to the North Fork’s shorelines

TROY GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Rabbit Lane in East Marion was among the streets hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy on the North Fork.

Yes, tropical storm-force winds toppled trees and knocked out power to thousands, but it’s what Hurricane Sandy did along the shore that makes this most unusual and unlikely late-season storm one to remember — and lament.

The massive storm passed far south of Southold Monday afternoon, on its destructive journey to the Jersey Shore. But those many miles weren’t enough to shield the North Fork shoreline from Sandy’s wrath.

Several homes in East Marion were destroyed and little was left of Pepi’s restaurant on the bay in Southold.

In Greenport, docks in the harbor at the end of Main Street were strewn about and the water reached shops on Front Street.

Mayor David Nyce said Mitchell Park was under water during the storm and the water flooding lower Main Street was about hip deep.

Although Mr. Nyce said he didn’t issue a mandatory evacuation prior to the storm, because he didn’t believe residents were in grave danger, Southold Supervisor Scott Russell did so Sunday afternoon for some portions of the village.

Both the village and town lifted their states of emergency at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Residents who were evacuated from their homes on Rabbit Lane in East Marion returned to their properties for the first time Wednesday, where they discovered devastation.

Several homes were said to be destroyed on the shore-front street, including at least one full-time residence.

Joan Berman said only brand new bulkhead saved her home from being completely destroyed. Instead she and husband Roy returned from their primary residence in Smithtown Wednesday to find their wraparound deck in ruins and pieces of other houses scattered throughout their yard.

“We were very fortunate,” she said.

Mary Ann Bollman chose to remain in her house on nearby Truman’s Path during the storm, braving treacherous conditions that demolished a boathouse her father-in-law built in the 1940s.

“There was a wall of water pounding my house,” she said.

Greenport restaurant owner Bill Claudio compared this week’s storm to Hurricane Carol in 1954.

“Bubble wrap around the doors helped, but the water still came in,” he said. “We had about 10 inches of water in the restaurant.”

He said Claudio’s Clam Bar and Crabby Jerry’s suffered the most water damage. Although Claudio’s restaurant on Main Street flooded, Mr. Claudio said the doors will reopen today (Thursday).

Mr. Claudio said he appreciated how village utility workers kept him in the loop throughout the storm.

“Before they shut down the power on lower Main Street, they checked on us,” he said. “They did one hell of a job.”

Port of Egypt owner Bill Lieblein also said he hadn’t seen this much flooding since Hurricane Carol, when he was 15 years old. As he assessed the damage Tuesday morning, he said it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

“We have some dock damage and a few boats were knocked off their blocks,” he said. “It was bad, but it could have been worse.”

The situation was worse for Mr. Lieblein’s neighbor, Pepi Gibinska, who has owned Pepi’s Restaurant for the past 14 years.

“It’s destroyed,” she said Wednesday morning. “My deck is inside the restaurant. We’re trying to save what we can.”

Ms. Gibinska said she’s looking into her options to determine the feasibility of rebuilding.

New Suffolk became an island of sorts when the few roadways in and out all flooded. At one point water flowing in from West Creek cascaded across New Suffolk Road in what looked like mini-rapids emptying into an adjacent farm field, where small fruit trees were left awash in salt water.

One man watching the flood said his mother was born in New Suffolk and he’d never heard of storm tides running that high.

The owners of Legend’s restaurant on flood-prone First Street barricaded the front of their building with large concrete blocks and sand bags, but the water still flowed inside to level of at least a foot.

“We didn’t do too bad,” said owner Diane Harkoff. “We lost a couple of refrigerators but it could have been a lot worse.”

It was a lot worse for the former Galley Ho restaurant building across the street on the western edge of Cutchogue Harbor. The building, which was to be a focal point of the New Suffolk Waterfront, and area preserved through a community fundraising effort, seemed all but destroyed when waves struck it face on, tearing off a deck and leaving the foundation in doubt.

Neighboring Captain Marty’s Fishing Station also suffered significant damage, particularly to the corner of the building holding the bait and tackle shop.

In his 43 years running Captain Marty’s, longtime owner Phil Loria, who sold the business earlier this year but still works there part time, can also recall only one other storm that matched Sandy’s destructive power.

Looking over the debris piled up on his dock by the storm tides and surrounding the building — on a street that’s often under water in bad weather — Mr. Loria said, “Typical New Suffolk.”

With reporting by Jennifer Gustavson and Gianna Volpe.

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