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Old Fields

Port Jefferson restaurants Ruvo and Old Fields are back open after sustaining serious damage during a Sept. 25 flood. Photos from Facebook

The skies opened and dumped buckets of water on Port Jefferson Village Sept. 25.

The area was hit with more than 4 inches of rain during the evening into the night, according to the National Weather Service, leading to severe flooding and leaving behind devastating damage. Two Main Street restaurants — Ruvo East and Old Fields of Port Jefferson — sustained significant damage that night, causing emergency evacuations and significant periods with their doors closed while feverish-paced repairs took place.

“I definitely have the best staff in all my restaurants,” said Joe DiNicola, owner of Ruvo. The restauranteur said the possibility of closing the doors to the establishment for good was a distinct possibility, but after weeks of hard work around the clock that possibility went away Oct. 11. “We bonded together and decided we were going to reopen it. Since then that’s been our common goal.”

The restaurant reopened Thursday afternoon. DiNicola said the building was inundated with about three feet of water as the rain poured down Sept. 25. The repair job required the reupholstering of most if not all of the restaurant’s furniture, “gutting” and redoing four bathrooms, a new roof, plumbing and electrical work, and more. He said his staff was all retained through the reconstruction process and nobody missed a paycheck. He said he encouraged his staff to take time off, making sure no one was putting in full seven-day work weeks, though many were there up to six days per week, and DiNicola said he was logging 15-hour days and beyond during the cleanup effort.

“We’ve had water in the past — a little bit,” he said. “This was an event that it was an anomaly. I just don’t understand. It was just rain.”

DiNicola said water poured into Ruvo from the roof, through drains and eventually in the front door. About 20 cars were totaled in the parking lot, he said. The Port Jefferson Fire Department — which sustained substantial damage itself at the Maple Place firehouse — had to assist people in exiting both Ruvo and Old Fields that night, in addition to helping stranded residents out of about a dozen cars. DiNicola and Old Fields owner David Tunney both heaped praise on the fire department for the work they did that night.

“Thank you to all first responders, village workers, volunteers, our staff, and to you, our loyal customers, thank you for all of your support,” Ruvo posted on its Facebook page Oct. 12.

Old Fields, which is just on the other side of Wynn Lane on Main Street north of Ruvo, was able to reopen Sept. 28, according to Tunney, who said he was thankful the situation here was not worse, sending his condolences to those experiencing recent storms in Florida and the Carolinas.

“It has been frantic,” he said. “We worked really hard and diligent to get back open. The water came in quick.”

Tunney’s restaurant was closed for two days, compared to nearly two weeks for Ruvo, though he said the job required a team of about 30 people working to clean and sanitize the soggy eatery. He said even in the moment on the night of the flood, he was able to keep things in perspective, joking that he told a member of his staff who asked if they needed some more rags, “no, get some tequila.”

This post was updated Oct. 16 to correct the date Old Fields reopened.

Theatre Three suffered damaged to costumes, props and other mechanical equipment, though productions went on a mere 72 hours after the storm. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though the floodwaters have receded a week later, cleanup and questions still remain.

Port Jefferson Village was hit with more than four inches of rain in about an hour during the evening Sept. 25, and while village trustee Bruce D’Abramo joked Port Jeff might have been prepared to handle a 100-year storm, it wasn’t ready for the “200-year storm” it sustained. The extreme rate of rainfall resulted in flash flooding that inundated Main Street, trapped motorists in cars, washed out those dining out in restaurants and soaked auditioning actors at Theatre Three. The theater and other businesses like Ruvo East on Wynn Lane and Old Fields of Port Jefferson a block over experienced high water marks of about four feet. Old Fields was closed for a few days after the storm while Ruvo remained closed for renovations due to the flooding as of Oct. 2. Port Jefferson School District’s two instructional buildings also were affected by the flooding, according to its website, and officials are in the process of determining what aspects of the damage are covered by insurance.

Theatre Three suffered damaged to costumes, props and other mechanical equipment, though productions went on a mere 72 hours after the storm. Photo by Kyle Barr

A furious volunteer effort ensued to get Theatre Three up and running in time for its Sept. 28 productions.

“We managed to get everything ready for Friday night and ran the entire weekend,” said Jeffrey Sanzel the theater’s executive artistic director.

Bradlee Bing, who serves on Theatre Three’s board of directors and was one of its founding directors in 1973, said cleanup efforts were undertaken by dozens of volunteers and staff in the 72 hours between the storm and Friday night’s productions. Work was done around the clock, spearheaded in large part by Brian Hoerger, the theater’s facilities manager, who Bing called the “champion” of the cleanup effort for his organizational and leadership role.

“As dark a day as it was, the sunshine and light of the volunteers really rejuvenated our energies and enthusiasm for what we’ve [been] doing these past 50 years,” Bing said. “The number of people that came down, multiple dozens of people that committed their time to putting everything back in order. The support of the town and community was overwhelming.”

He said restaurants donated food to help keep volunteers going, and The Home Depot and Lowe’s donated supplies to help remove the tons of mud and other remnants of the flood. He said much of the theater’s electrical wiring was destroyed. Sanzel said some other important items sustained major damage, including an HVAC unit, the boiler, costumes, a large chunk of props used in annual productions of “A Christmas Carol,” all of the props from the touring show “From the Fires: Voices of the Holocaust,” along with “many, many other things.”

“We’ve experienced in the past certain types of flooding in Port Jefferson,” Bing said. “This last one was the worst flooding event we’ve ever experienced. Wednesday morning was a mud disaster in the theater.”

Theatre Three suffered damaged to costumes, props and other mechanical equipment, though productions went on a mere 72 hours after the storm. Photo by Kyle Barr

New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) indicated he’s seen severe flooding in Port Jeff in the past during nonhurricane weather events, but this particular storm raised his eyebrows for a number of reasons. The storm occurred during low tide and flooding was not due to tidal waters, meaning had it occurred during high tide it’s possible tidal floodwaters would have combined with the flash flooding to cause water levels to reach in the ballpark of 10 feet instead of the four to five feet that actually occurred, Englebright said.

“When you put a layer of sand on top of a living marsh and then build housing and buildings on it, and rename it from Drowned Meadow to Port Jefferson, and hope nobody would notice, nature will come back and bite you from time to time,” he said. As the chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Conservation, Englebright indicated storms like this one could become more frequent. “That’s a kind of a preview of what’s going to happen if we don’t seriously address climate. The big flood is still in the future, but the signposts all point toward continuing sea level rise. So I’m concerned.”

Englebright suggested in the meantime serious consideration be given to raising future structures constructed in the village above ground level.

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