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Thousands remain without power as tropical storm cleanup begins on North Fork

A quick-moving storm left a trail of debris Tuesday as downed trees and power lines clogged roadways and caused thousands of North Fork residents to lose power.

The massive outages across Long Island were on a level not seen since Superstorm Sandy in 2012 as PSEG Long Island reported nearly 400,000 customers losing power — outages that will likely take days to fully restore.

Tropical Storm Isaias arrived in force Tuesday afternoon, and while the eye of the storm tracked west over New Jersey, resulting in little to no rain locally, strong wind gusts still wreaked havoc.

The National Weather Service recorded a wind gust of 64 mph in Orient. Gusts of up to 78 mph were recorded at Farmingdale Airport, the highest mark in Suffolk County. Several other locations recorded gusts above 70 mph.

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And after a delay in reporting, PSEG announced Tuesday night that the storm left more than 4,500 North Fork customers without power. It later upgraded that number to around 6,300, doubling the number for Riverhead Town, where just over 4,900 outages were reported as of Wednesday morning.

PSEG reported late Tuesday that “more than 2,000 line workers, tree trimmers, surveyors and other utility personnel are onsite to address outages.”

“There needs to be an analysis and understanding of what happened,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Wednesday. “Communications in a storm is critical and we need to understand what happened.”

PSEG said as of 11:30 a.m. Wednesday it had restored power to about 220,000 customers across Long Island, with 2,000 crews deployed to the region.

“They’re working hard overnight and they will be for the next couple of days to get that power turned back on,” Mr. Bellone said.

Virtually all of Orient was without power as of 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. More than 15% of customers were without power in Southold and Riverhead hamlets, Greenport West and Calverton.

“Several roads are closed and we have about 125 trees that need to be removed,” Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said Wednesday morning. “We are coordinating with PSEG and have identified the top priorities.”

The priority, he said, is to remove all of the trees blocking or partially blocking roadways. 

“In many instances, the trees are entangled with power lines so we can’t get to work on these until PSEG gets there to cut the power to the lines and remove them,” he said.

The Southold Town Highway Department crews have been working on clearing roads “and haven’t stopped since the onset of the storm,” the supervisor said.

He added the fees for homeowners to bring brush to the landfill will continued to be waived.

Downed power lines and blown transformers led to grass fires on South Harbor Road in Southold, where traffic was shut down for a period of time, and Stillwater Avenue in Cutchogue.

Southold Town Highway Superintendent Vincent Orlando visited several sites most impacted by Isaias. 

“It packed a punch,” he said of the storm.

Cleanup began early this morning, trying to get coordinated. 

“It’s almost like spring cleanup,” he said. “We’ve got one crew going east and one going west, going down every road slowly cutting [trees] up and getting rid of them. We’re going to keep pushing through.”

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Riverhead Town police Chief David Hegermiller also said the cleanup of trees and limbs is reliant on PSEG securing the wires first when they’re entangled. He said he heard a highway department worker was injured cutting down a tree. He did not believe the injury was serious.

A lot of traffic lights were also out overnight, he said.

“Flooding was not an issue,” he said. “Not even downtown. We hit it, I think, coming off the high tide. So I think the tide was going out, so that was good. I think we were well out of it by the next high tide, which was 2 o’clock this morning.”

As of Wednesday morning, Sound Avenue between Route 105 and Doctor’s Path remained closed. Other secondary roads were also closed, “but nothing that would impede traffic that much,” he said.

The chief estimated power would be restored across the town by Friday morning.

In Riverhead Town, Wading River was the most visibly impacted by downed trees and power lines with roads like Sunset Boulevard and Long Pond Road shut through Wednesday morning due to hazardous situations.

“We have people on overtime to take care of the dangerous conditions,” Chief Hegermiller said. “Any dangerous condition still out there, we have staffed with personnel.”

PSEG cast some of the blame on its communication issues on Verizon. It said the power company is reliant on Verizon for its Internet and communications systems.

“Without reliable support from Verizon, our systems cannot perform as they should. PSEG Long Island is actively working with Verizon to address this issue, and PSEG and LIPA have asked the DPS for assistance.”

The outage map did not begin to show the outages across Riverhead and Southold until late Tuesday.