It was a dark and stormy night on Wednesday evening, July 21, the last night of Camp Blue Bay’s Session #2. An alleged water spout traveled through Gardiners Bay on the East End of Long Island, wrecking havoc on the Springs section of East Hampton, and hitting our property. Rains poured and winds blew. Trees fell over. When the storm passed after less than a half hour, the Camp was dark. Very dark.
First, as the storm began, our staff acted quickly to move all the girls inside the Activity Building for their safety. All of the girls and staff remained safe throughout the night. The storm took out power and phone service. A few staff were able to use their cell phones, but then the power outage rendered the cell phone towers out of service. The Counselors kept the girls singing for hours and hours, until they fell asleep on the floor. Some girls were a little shaken, but everyone of them was safe and well, and they have the stories to tell for many years to come!
Once we learned of the problem here in Nassau County, we posted word on our webpage and Facebook page that all the girls were safe, but with no electricity, we would not be able to send girls out for Session #3 the next morning. Until the sun came up, we would not know how bad the damage was, and with no electricity we could not run our water system. We knew that at a minimum we would need to delay camp by one day, and possibly more.
The next morning our Camp Staff jumped into action. Camp Director Catherine Mottola and our Rangers assessed the damage, while the counselors worked quickly to get all the girls ready to return home. The buses could not get in until the town roads were cleared. While most girls were expected by their parents that day, girls scheduled for multiple sessions also had to come home. Office staff back in Garden City got to work calling all the parents for the session that was being completed, and the one scheduled to go out that morning. It was hard to deliver news that was so disappointing since some girls wait all year to go to Camp Blue Bay!
By Thursday afternoon, we recognized that we would not be able to open Camp Blue Bay for Session #3. More calls were made to families, more postings to the internet to keep everyone informed. By 7:00 p.m. more than 100 families had received the news. We promised to work to try and reopen for Session #4 on July 29.
The next step was to get to work on repairs; so much to be done and only one week. The tasks were monumental and everyone at Blue Bay had an assignment. First was to clean up the debris and personal belongings that had been strewn throughout the camp by the storm. Simultaneously, they had to identify and prioritize the most hazardous sections of the Camp. Call the tree surgeons. Work with LIPA to determine when the electricity would be restored and once the power was restored, bringing the wells back up and running was a big job.
There were dozens and dozens of trees down. A few were on wires and structures, so they were the first that had to go. Then the ones that were in danger of falling on paths where girls needed to be. Catherine and her team identified the trees. The professionals got them down on the ground – many required the use of cherry pickers. Our Ranger staff then sawed the fallen trees into to moveable pieces, and our Counselors moved brush into piles and stacked wood. It was amazing organization and teamwork. And they did much of this work in 90+ degree heat and high humidity.
This was certainly not the job our Counselors had signed on to do, but they did it willingly and with great, good humor. Because of the leadership of Laura Bissett-Carr, Manager of Program and Outdoor Services, who spent that weekend with her husband working on the ground at Camp, the dedication and focus of Catherine in mobilizing her team, the sheer hard work of Rangers Jon Paul and Jim, and a great crew of professional tree surgeons, Camp Blue was able to reopen for Session #4.
I was on the bus with those campers who arrived on July 29 to the Camp, and I don’t know who was happier, the girls or the Counselors that were awaiting them!. The improvements to what I witnessed between the Friday after the storm to July 29 were staggering. The Camp was not perfect, but it was safe and ready to go. And for that we can thank God, for leading our girls through the storm safely, and for providing the leadership of Laura and Catherine and the hard work and determination of all who worked through the heat to get Camp Blue Bay ready again for the GIRLS!
There is still work to be done and we will continue to work to restore the Camp throughout the fall and into next Spring. Some areas will be noticeably different with the trees cleared away, but it is the way of the forest to restore itself in its time. Meanwhile, we are so happy to be open for business for the GIRLS who make Camp Blue Bay a place of learning, leadership and laughter.