By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star
---- — Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee are uncomfortably fresh in many memories, so news that Hurricane Sandy could head this way early next week had emergency management officials doing some preliminary work Thursday.
“Conference calls with the (national) weather service and conference calls with the state, just strategizing, as well as just preparing our local agencies and departments to be watchful,” said Richard Bell, the director of emergency services for Delaware County.
“It’s a little ways out, but we need to start preparing and thinking about the scenarios and making sure that our plans and equipment are ready to
respond to it.”
Mitch Gilt of the National Weather Service’s office in Binghamton cautioned against drawing any comparisons between Sandy and Irene or Lee.
“It’s a whole different type of scenario,” he said. “There’s a potential for heavy rain, some strong wind, and, as far as particulars go, I wouldn’t compare it to anything at this point, because there’s just too many variables.”
“I think it would be a real disservice to mention Irene of Lee or anything like that … this far ahead,” he said. “People need to be watching this event, keep updated on the weather forecast through the weekend.”
Nevertheless, emergency management officials were being cautious.
Robert O’Brien, assistant emergency management coordinator for Otsego County said that it was too early to take any action, but that Otsego officials also were participating in the National Weather Service conference calls
National Hurricane Center computer models indicate that Sandy will head northeast along the coast, but offshore, and then turn toward land sometime Monday. Accuweather, a private forecaster based in Pennsylvania, is predicting that the storm will track more sharply to the northwest once it makes landfall.
“This is a fairly unusual event, based on the fact that it’s coming from the Atlantic up the coast and, all of a sudden, it gets sucked back into the interior part of the United States,” Gilt said.
He also said it is “unusual, but not unheard of,” for a storm this large in late October.
Central New York is likely to feel the first effects of the storm Monday, he said.
“That would be initially increasing wind, and then it would give us a better idea where the rain bands are going to set up and develop,” he said.
As of Thursday night, Sandy was a Category 2 hurricane, with winds at 96 to 110 mph. The hurricane center was not predicting any substantial strengthening.
In the Village of Schoharie, where a Main Street plaque marks the water line — about 5 feet above ground level — after floodwaters from Schoharie Creek devastated downtown, the threat of another big storm produced a sense of urgency.
“We’re keeping track,” village Clerk-Treasurer Leslie J. Price said. “We’re proactive. We have our plans in motion.”
Price said that if the storm is still threatening Sunday, the village will move its offices to higher ground.
“We’re not going to go through that (Irene) again,” she said.
For her, the threat is personal as well as governmental.
“I’ve had a small business here since 1979, and I had one in Middleburgh that was there for a year and a half,” she said. “That one’s gone. We haven’t rebuilt it. I’ve just rebuilt my salon (in Schoharie).”
“I reopened on Aug. 28,” she said.
Price also lost her house in the flood, too, and said she’s still living in a trailer provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Based on water bills, 285 of the 401 properties in the village were severely damaged by the Irene flood, she said. Only 58 have come back.
At least one Delaware County business owner hit hard by last year’s storms wasn’t waiting for official confirmation that Sandy is really a threat.
“We’re getting everything picked up outside,” said Lilly Piacquadio, owner of Bun ‘N’ Cone on Bridge St. in Margaretville.
“Anything that’s not nailed down – chairs, tables,” she said. “We have tents out there that are going to be gone.”
Piacquadio was out of business for 2½ months after Irene struck the region, despite having a building she described as flood-proof.
“This was built for the hundred-year flood,” she said. “I guess the last one … was higher than the hundred-year flood.”
“The building itself didn’t move,” she added. “But a back window got hit by something and broke open, and that’s where all the water came in.”
This time, she said, the window will be tightly sealed.