Asharoken Mayor Greg Letica climbed aboard the bus Wednesday and immediately took center stage on a macabre tour into disaster.
Little more than four months after unseating Pat Irving in the June 19 election, Letica, 55, was forced to confront a crisis of epic proportions. Hurricane Sandy slammed the North Shore community on Monday, an event that brought comparisons to the wicked nor’easter that flooded Asharoken in December 1992.
This hurricane brought a storm surge estimated at 9 feet over the dune and beach berm that runs the length of Asharoken Beach. The fury of the Long Island Sound was no match.
“High tide wiped away the dunes,” said Letica, a life-long resident and Northport dentist.
Related: Storm Photos l Live Blog
The rebuilt seawall held, but homes still flooded and Asharoken Ave. was closed, cutting off Eatons Neck residents for 16 long hours.
Letica rode out the storm in his home along Asharoken Ave. He never thought about evacuating. Gusts of 94 mph were recorded in nearby Eatons Neck.
“I’m the mayor here,” Letica said. “Are you kidding?”
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Riding along on the bus were Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone and several other local politicians.
Soon the bus came to a halt. A line formed on Asharoken Ave. as crews worked to clear sand from the roadway and right utility poles blown over by Sandy.
“What we witnessed we’ve seen in other areas,” Bellone said. “Here you’ve seen an incredible amount of damage in terms powerlines and trees coming down. It gives you a sense of what we’re facing and the difficulties we’re facing now and in the days ahead.”
Bellone followed Letica off the bus and onto the newly-flattened beach.
“In some crazy way I was prepared for this better than a lot of other things that have been thrown at me so far,” Letica said. “I lived here in 1992. I’ve been here my entire life. I’ve seen a lot of storms. I’ve seen what you need to do to reconstruct the place.”
The '92 storm set the standard for this generation in terms of flooding and drama, an unforgettable part of the area's history. Letica believes Sandy was worse.
So he moved quickly to do what needed to be done, beginning with taking chainsaws to five downed utility poles. Petrone gave the mayor authorization and the Eatons Neck Fire Department carved a path for traffic to flow once again.
LIPA said 39,921 customers were still without power in the Town of Huntington late Thursday, including 35 in Asharoken, 131 in Centerport, 493 in Eatons Neck, 3,858 in East Northport, 1,637 in Elwood and 1,122 in Northport.
Soon the bus tour moved on. Letica went back to work while the VIPs motored on to the next disaster zone.
“This is a resilient beachfront community,” Letica said. “We’re well prepared for this. We’ll fix it and move on.”
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