Cold temps bring warnings, and assistance if needed

Valley Stream resident Suni Kim endures the frigid

Valley Stream resident Suni Kim endures the frigid weather while waiting for the bus at Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City. (Jan. 21, 2014) Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

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A blast of arctic air and many hours of steady snowfall Tuesday prompted officials and experts to issue dire warnings for Long Islanders to stay indoors and bundle up.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a state of emergency statewide as temperatures dropped into the teens and snow fell at a rate of an inch or two an hour in some areas of Long Island.

Joey Picca, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Upton, said overnight temperatures near 10 degrees -- with a wind chill factor between minus 5 and minus 10 degrees -- would warm only to the upper teens Wednesday.

And the cold will be with us for a while, the service said, as Wednesday's high temperature was not expected to reach 20 during the day and will drop into the single digits again at night.

Local officials scrambled Tuesday to prepare for the worst, opening warming centers and issuing advisories on how to survive the cold snap.

"We are fully prepared to work through the night," said Red Cross of Long Island chief executive John Miller, adding that as many as 1,000 volunteers were on hand to assist with emergencies.

In addition to stocking centers with cots, food and blankets, the Red Cross also contracted with restaurants, caterers and food vendors that all could be called on if necessary, Miller said.

He recommended that residents stick with "conventional" ways of heating their homes to lessen the risk of fires caused by using stoves, for example.

"If they do have to go out, dress in layers and make sure their car is winterized with a full tank of gas," he said.

Town officials jumped into action, too. Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray declared a snow emergency and offered residents relief at 15 warming centers Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Town of Oyster Bay's ice skating center in Bethpage was open at 5 p.m. Tuesday as a warming center, but no residents were using it.

"It's usually packed with kids and parents," said Mark Openchowski, a parks department employee at the center. If anyone needs to use the facility "they can sit where they want, sit by the fire, use the bathrooms," he said.

Oyster Bay spokesman Kurt Ludwig said the town opens two warming centers at the behest of Nassau County as a precaution during storms.

"We're happy to make these available to people who need them," Ludwig said, adding that they aren't designed for people to find shelter and sleep. Rather "they're strictly for people to warm up if they find themselves in a crisis."

Rob Seiden, president of the volunteer Port Washington Crisis Relief Team, said they would keep in touch with officials and are equipped to deal with emergencies.

In addition to offering meals and blankets, the volunteers can provide generators and shelter -- opening the high school, which is stocked with supplies.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said the county's shelter program for homeless individuals and families during the winter months is active.

The Nassau County Winter Homeless Hotline operates seven days a week and runs through March 31, or until warmer weather arrives.

With Ted Phillips

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