"The river gives, and the river takes away."
So said Randy Finnegan as he surveyed the damage Tuesday afternoon, about 100 feet away from the Peconic River, amongst uprooted flower beds and withered plants in the River and Roots Community Garden downtown.
Not to mention the huge tree that fell down in the middle of the garden, on top of about half the garden plots.
Finnegan was just one of scores of people downtown on Tuesday standing on ground that 24 hours previously, was flooded well beyond the banks of the Peconic River and left behind a solid mark after its left – in the watermarks on the buildings as it rose, in the flower beds it uprooted, in the stench of a musty hatchback parked in the middle of a parking lot.
Many businesses had their doors closed Tuesday afternoon, adorned with taped advertisements from another business offering to clean them out.
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But a few were already at work, after Hurricane Sandy came with what downtown restaurant owner and former Riverhead town councilman Vic Prusinowski called, "the highest flooding I've ever seen in Riverhead."
Prusinowski is a lifelong Riverhead resident and co-owner of Cody's BBQ and Grill on East Main Street. Tuesday afternoon, Prusinowski had a three-inch pump running to rid his basement of what he said was about a foot and a half of water. He said he expected to throw away a freezer that went bad in the storm, but is hoping to be open for business by Thursday.
Down at the corner of East Main Street and Peconic Lane, Tweed's Buffalo Bar owner Ed Tuccio was pumping his basement out while Dark Horse Restaurant owner Dee Muma was doing the same, preparing to toss out spoiled food as a result of the storm.
Muma estimated she had pumped out 40,000 gallons up until Tuesday afternoon and expected to get rid of another 20,000 more, after which point she'd take inventory, clean up and get back to work.
"Hopefully we can be back by Friday or Saturday," she said.
Muma noted that while water rose to two and a half feet in a rear patio behind her restaurant, a proper job stacking sand bags had kept water from seeping in too much. But the town's sewage system downtown became backed up in the midst of the storm, and a call on the block to the fire department subsequently resulted in shutting off Muma's sump pumps.
"And that was the end of that," she said.
Town officials said they would be surveying damage in the next couple of days in order to coordinate emergency authorities and, should the damage justify, apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for aid.
Police Chief David Hegermiller said on Tuesday morning he did not immediately see evidence that the town had suffered enough damage to qualify, though time would tell. Municipalities generally have 72 hours after an emergency to apply for aid.
Back in the community garden, Finnegan noted that while damage from the coastal flooding will require a lot of work, the Peconic "sure is beautiful to look at."