Long Island and New England Prepare for Rare Hurricane Strike

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As Hurricane Henri approaches the region, New York City prepared to shut down city beaches and Boston erected flood barriers around its most vulnerable subway station.

Boats being taken out of the water at Safe Harbor Marina in Buzzards Bay, Mass., on Friday in preparation for Hurricane Henri.
Credit...Joseph Prezioso/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Aug. 21, 2021, 3:38 p.m. ET

As Hurricane Henri churned up the East Coast on Saturday, communities from New York City to Boston prepared for what would be the first hurricane to make landfall on Long Island or in New England in at least 30 years.

The governors of New York and Massachusetts activated members of the National Guard to make high-water rescues and clear debris. The mayor of New Haven, Conn., recommended that residents on streets closest to the water voluntarily evacuate. And the utility PSEG Long Island warned customers that power outages could last seven to 10 days after the storm.

Henri was projected to make landfall on Long Island or in southern New England as a Category 1 storm on Sunday afternoon, although its precise track remained uncertain.

Dangerous storm surge from Henri, which strengthened into a hurricane with 75-mile-per-hour winds on Saturday morning, was projected in parts of Long Island, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. But even if it were to swerve toward New York City, a repeat of the damage from Hurricane Sandy was unlikely.

Residents were still scrambling to prepare on Saturday, with the Suffolk County executive, Steven Bellone, calling on visitors and residents of Fire Island, which lies on the southern shore of Long Island, to voluntarily evacuate.

“If they do not leave the island today, they will be stuck,” he warned.

When Tropical Storm Isaias tore through the region last summer, he said, Long Island experienced more than 600,000 power outages — and that storm did not even make a direct hit. After PSEG Long Island told customers on Friday about the possibility of lengthy outages, the Nassau County executive, Laura Curran, called it an “unacceptable” timetable.

Scott Hirsch, the longtime owner of the Island Mermaid in Ocean Beach, a section of Fire Island, said the restaurant began to shut down early on Saturday morning. “It’s not our first time at the dance here with stuff like this,” Mr. Hirsch said, before adding, “This one’s running on a scarier pattern.”

Southampton planned to issue a voluntary evacuation order affecting 6,000 people, said the town supervisor, Jay Schneiderman, who expected other towns in the Hamptons to follow its lead. “We don’t get that many hurricanes,” he said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, on one of his final days in office, said at a news conference he was worried that because of quick-moving forecasts, there was less time for officials and residents to prepare.

“I understand we didn’t have the buildup that we had with Superstorm Sandy,” Mr. Cuomo said, noting that New Yorkers have had only a day of warnings. “Don’t be deceived by that. It’s because the trajectory of the storm changed.”

The governor said that New Yorkers should expect flight cancellations, and that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority was preparing to cancel some Long Island Rail Road service by midnight on Saturday. He declared a state of emergency for Long Island, New York City and several other regions of the state.

Officials also began canceling other activities and events. All city beaches will be closed for swimming on Sunday and Monday. And the annual TD Five Boro Bike Tour, which was scheduled for Sunday and expected to involve about 20,000 riders, was postponed for a week because of the extreme conditions.

Earlier, it looked more likely that the storm would directly hit New England, sending customers to Adler’s Design Center & Hardware in Providence, R.I., where they bought all of the store’s kerosene lamps before moving on to flashlights and candles, said Leanne Dolloff, a cashier.

But even then, many longtime residents of the region were skeptical that the storm would be too disruptive.

“We’re New Englanders, we can handle it,” said Ms. Dolloff, 40, who remembers waking up to a floating bed in her Lowell, Mass., home when Hurricane Gloria — the last hurricane to make landfall on Long Island — swept through in 1985.

Officials were preparing in case Henri causes as much damage as Gloria or Hurricane Bob, which tore its way up the East Coast in 1991. More than a dozen people died in each storm.

Gloria was a Category 1 storm when it hit Long Island, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate, bringing down thousands of trees and leaving 1.5 million homes without power. Bob made landfall as a Category 2 storm, and millions were affected by downed trees, power outages and flooding.

In Boston’s Seaport District, which was built upon the mud flats and salt marshes along Boston Harbor after that lashing, bars and restaurants like Harpoon, Legal Sea Foods and Yankee Lobster had not made plans to close for Henri. Farther east, in the Cape Cod community of Buzzards Bay, boats were being removed from the marina but little was being done to secure gas grills or deck chairs.

Henri was expected to flood many areas already inundated from the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred.

In Boston, officials said they were building barriers around the city’s most vulnerable subway station and would suspend some transit services on Sunday. Massachusetts saw heavy rains on Thursday that required emergency workers to retrieve people from cars caught in high water. When Tropical Storm Elsa traveled up the Northeast coast earlier in the summer, New York subway riders were forced to navigate waist-deep waters at some stations.

Hurricane Sandy flooded subway and highway tunnels in New York in 2012, knocking out power to much of Manhattan. But Sandy was a much larger storm, devastating an area from New Jersey to Connecticut, and its size drove a catastrophic surge of seawater into New York Harbor.

Henri is not expected to have the same impact, and passengers waiting to board the ferry from Boston to Provincetown on Friday night were cautiously optimistic that their plans would not be foiled.

Gary Livolsi said he had been through a lot of nor’easters and was content simply making sure the umbrellas and cushions were not left on his patio.

“I’m hoping they’re overestimating it, as they often do,” said Susan Mahoney, who was off to spend the weekend in Provincetown but was fully prepared to stay longer if necessary. “I brought extra wine.”

Troy Closson reported from New York and Ellen Barry from Boston. Reporting was contributed by Sophie Kasakove, Michael Gold and Adam Sobel from New York, Colleen Cronin from Providence, R.I., Catherine McGloin from Boston, and Beth Treffeisen from Dennis, Mass.

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