A massive tree knocked out power lineson Sheldon Place in Commack. (Photo by Rachel Gruler)

The severity of an intense thunderstorm that hit Long Island on Sunday, leaving one dead and about 80,000 homes and businesses without power, caught officials and residents by surprise, authorities said.

The National Weather Service (NWS) had issued a severe thunderstorm warning for parts of Suffolk County on Sunday afternoon, but the strong winds and resulting widespread damage that it left in its wake turned relaxing a relaxing sunny beach day into chaos. One woman was found dead in the water off Fire Island immediately after the storm.

“Yesterday was a significant extreme weather event,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone told reporters during a news conference Monday. “This caught everyone completely unawares, including us.”

The areas that saw the most significant damage stretched from Huntington to Commack on the North Shore and Bay Shore through Oakdale on the South Shore, NWS reported. Downed trees and limbs hit houses, blocked roadways, and forced the Long Island Rail Road to suspend service on the Ronkonkoma Branch.

“Doppler radar and observational analysis support the damage being consistent with straight-line winds and downbursts,” the agency said in a statement. “There was no evidence of rotation with the storm.”

Suffolk County police are investigating the death of a woman who was pulled from the Great South Bay at 3:40 p.m. A 911 caller reported finding a body floating in the water near shore, went into the water on a paddleboard and kept the woman floating until officers arrived on scene at the Seaview Marina, police said. The woman was pronounced dead shortly later, but her name name was not immediately released. She is believed to have drowned in rough water due to the storm.

PSEG Long Island reported that the utility has about 500 extra crew members arriving from across the Northeast to help and the agency has a call out for another 200. Officials said while more than half of the 80,000 of the Long Island Power Authority’s 1.1 million customers have power back and most will be back by tomorrow, crews will be working around the clock until every last one gets their lights back on.

Of the about 2,000 damage areas being worked on, outages impacting individual homes or small groups of homes may have to wait as long as Wednesday, said said Daniel Eichorn, president of PSEG-LI. He estimated that could be up to 9,000 customers.

“We won’t sleep until we’re all back,” he said.

A Northport hickory tree split in half, braking a window. (Photo by Spencer Rumsey)
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Timothy Bolger is the Editor in Chief of the Long Island Press who’s been working to uncover unreported stories since shortly after it launched in 2003. When he’s not editing, getting hassled by The Man or fielding cold calls to the newsroom, he covers crime, general interest and political news in addition to reporting longer, sometimes investigative features. He won’t be happy until everyone is as pissed off as he is about how screwed up Lawn Guyland is.