Hurricane Sandy at 1:45 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (17:45 Universal Time) on October 28, 2012.

Hurricane Sandy: Tribes Pull Together as Monster Storm Takes Aim

ICTMN Staff
10/29/12

Hurricane Sandy took aim at northeastern Turtle Island on Monday morning, promising a deadly mix of snow, wind, rain and high tides spurred on by a full moon.

The storm, turning toward the north early Monday, was “expected to bring life-threatening storm surge … coastal hurricane winds and heavy Appalachian snows,” the National Hurricane Center said on its website. The center was on target to hit the New Jersey coastline sometime late Monday or early Tuesday, but the leading edge of the storm was expected to make travel nearly impossible by noontime on Monday. Its effects could extend all the way to the Great Lakes, CBS News reported.

Evacuations were ordered from low-lying areas from the New Jersey shore—including Atlantic City and its casinos—and up through parts of New England, and New York City mass transit was suspended starting at 7 p.m. on Sunday. The New York Stock Exchange was closed. CBS News reported that transit systems were also shut down in Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore. Schools were closed in all those cities as well as Boston.

Weatherunderground.com posted a state-by-state breakdown of expected effects for Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, Maryland, Washington D.C. and North Carolina. All involved at least two feet of storm surge, with most states registering several times that amount. This was on top of tides, which were to be at their highest because of the full moon.

The United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) spent the afternoon of October 28 pulling together tribes experienced in hurricane preparation and aftermath with those who are new to this game, namely the tribes that are most likely to feel the effects. In a statement released late on Sunday October 28, USET said the tribes in the storm’s direct path include the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, Narragansett Indian Tribe, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, Mohegan Tribe, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and Shinnecock Indian Nation. The Shinnecock Indian Nation, on Long Island, may be the first of those to feel the effects and had already declared a state of emergency on Sunday October 28.

“The first time a tribe encounters a situation like this there is always lot of confusion. Once we know more about the storm we are going to match up experienced emergency management coordinators to follow the storm with those tribes,” said USET Senior Project Coordinator of Emergency Management Harrell French in a statement.

USET was pulling in tribes such as the Seminoles of Florida, since they deal with hurricanes every year. The Seminole Tribe volunteered to help their northern USET counterparts coordinate resources and look ahead to response and recovery. Other tribes with hurricane experience include the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Tunic-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana, Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana, and Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, who all dealt with Hurricane Isaac in August, USET said.

The USET Tribal Emergency Mutual Aid Compact (TEMAC) held a conference call on Sunday to bring these forces together and strategize on how to deal with the storm before, during and after.

The Oneida Indian Nation in central New York was also in danger of being affected by this storm, USET noted, though the weather issues would be different. In the conference call, Oneida Emergency Management’s Terry Winslow said his tribe’s concern was the vicious snowstorm that Sandy is supposed to bring when she clashes with the Arctic cold front that is conspiring, along with a similar one parked over Greenland, to pull Sandy inland.

“Our biggest fear is the snowfall and the high winds [that may come from the hurricane/tropical storm],” he said. “Those things coupled together are going to give us widespread electrical outages.”

His preparation efforts entailed making sure that generators were filled with fuel and working properly, USET’s release said.

The Tribal Emergency Management Association (iTEMA) weighed in too, recommending that all tribes in the storm’s path declare a state of emergency before the fact and to advise both FEMA and the governors of their respective states that they had done so. Proactivity would make the relief work flow more smoothly, said iTEMA’s Jake Heflin.

“This will signify to the government that you are ‘ahead of the storm’ and preparing for response and recovery,” he said.

Other advice included encouraging tribes to maintain good records of equipment, resources and labor hours involved in their response and recovery efforts so as to facilitate reimbursement and assistance, said Willo Sylestine, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas emergency management director.

The other tribes most likely to be affected each had different issues. The Shinnecock Indian Nation, less than a mile from the Atlantic Ocean and on a peninsula, had already evacuated many residents and had double-checked the backup power sources for the emergency operation center and health center, said Tracy Pace, the tribe’s emergency management director. About 1,000 could be directly affected by the storm, Pace said.

“We sit out in the bay and are protected by a dune which has been evacuated already,” Pace said, according to USET. “We are putting up notices and sending out emails and going door-to-door.  We have checked on special needs already. Have category 1 and category 2 evacuations going. We are expecting a lot of rain, a lot of trees to down along with utility lines.”

The Passamaquoddy Tribes and the Penobscot Indian Nation, both in southeastern Maine, were reporting stable weather on Sunday afternoon, according to USET. They were shoring up their infrastructure, unsure of what to expect and when.

“We are checking on all our [waste water] systems,” said Penobscot Emergency Management coordinator Vera Francis. “We have double-checked our waste water facility as well as our fire department, as they will be our back up if there is a storm surge that overtakes it. We are concerned about heavy rainfall and infiltration of lots of seawater. We have been organizing all weekend and getting information out to all of our people. We are getting the boats in and get their yards cleaned up (for possible high winds. I think people are taking this very seriously.”

There was one bright spot in the mayhem. The Catawba Indian Nation, in north-central South Carolina, was anticipating the hurricane but escaped with nary a breeze, they told USET.

“We got overcast skies and 15-20 mile per hour wind.  That is all we got out of it.  We were lucky,” said Catawba Assistant Chief Wayne George. “We stand ready to help out the other tribes if they need it.”

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