It was just one storm — but it was a nasty one.
Rain and wind pounded the South Shore well into the evening on Jan. 9. And when the high tide rolled in early the next morning, all bets were off for communities like Freeport, Baldwin Harbor and the Five Towns, among others.
Streets, yards and even highways flooded. Stalled cars were found in many of these temporary ponds, almost like boats floating on the water.
Yet this was nothing new to so many who call these communities home. And it’s likely to only get worse as time goes by.
The seawater surrounding Long Island has been rising more than an inch every decade. By the time our children and grandchildren welcome a new century in 2100, key parts of the South Shore will be underwater.
That’s a couple of lifetimes away, but we’re feeling the effects now, when even something as simple as a swelling high tide can wreak havoc on our streets and our properties.
Our elected leaders have their work cut out for them as they try to figure out how to curb this rise in the coming years and decades. In the meantime, the rest of us need to make sure we stay safe and keep our families protected.
But what can we do? One, make sure you have flood insurance — and be careful, it’s typically a separate policy from what you might have on your home.
But even more important: Heed the warnings of emergency officials when storms or flooding hit an area. If you’re told to evacuate, for example, don’t waste time, and do it.
The fears of leaving your home behind, of course, are quite real. What happens if looters get there before you come back? And do you really have to leave? Aren’t emergency officials’ pronouncements more often than not an overreaction?
When it comes to natural disasters, it’s all about being safe. The alternative, staying at home, not only threatens your safety — and maybe even your life — but rescuing you later could tie up essential resources that may be needed elsewhere. It’s better to go, and then come back later when you get the all-clear.
Whether it’s before, during or after a flood, the National Weather Service says that the most important thing you can do is stay informed.
Turn on your local news. Visit your local newspaper’s website. Hop onto social media. Learn about evacuation orders, flooded roads, and anything else that could potentially mean the difference between life and death.
If you’re in an area you think could be subject to flooding, get to higher ground. Secure your home and go. If you have time, unplug appliances, and even disconnect utilities.
And on top of everything else, avoid floodwaters. Don’t drive through them. Don’t walk through them. Just stay away.
You might think you know where the bottom is — and the water may seem almost serene — but you have no idea what’s below the surface. The ground could have been washed away, and there’s a chance a current is flowing just below where you can see — enough to pull you away, or even under.
And if that’s not enough, driving through saltwater will ruin your car.
While Nassau County has avoided flood-related deaths for the most part in recent years, that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. More than half of those lives lost occur when people drive or walk into floodwaters, according to the weather service. Even a half-foot of fast-moving water is enough to knock a grown adult off their feet and carry them away. Double that, and ponding water can move a small car.
Long Island is our home. It’s where we work, or go to school. We want to continue living here a long time — and we start by staying safe.