Storm disrupts travel, knocks out power on LI

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Two major highways in Suffolk were closed to all but emergency vehicles last night as the first major snowstorm of the season gripped Long Island without causing the massive problems initially predicted.

Authorities shut down the Long Island Expressway and Sunrise Highway just before 10 last night to all but emergency vehicles, citing severe weather.

By the time the brunt of the storm arrived about 6 p.m., winds had gusted up to 52 mph on Plum Island, and Setauket and Mount Sinai area had the biggest snow fall -- 19 inches, the National Weather Service said.

But by 9 p.m., no serious problems were reported in power outages, train delays and fender-bender-type accidents.

"We've dodged the forecasted bullet," Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said shortly after 9 p.m., having found isolated flooding and other problems on his blizzard tour of the county.

Though more snow is expected to fall, he said, residents should be home for the night, giving work crews time to clear the roads by morning.

A Suffolk County spokeswoman last last night said there were no reports of serious wind, snow and flood damage, adding that crews were continuing to plow and salt the roads overnight.

The powerful snowstorm walloped Long Island last night, shutting down airports, making roads treacherous and knocking out power to thousands of homes.

Heavy snow fell throughout Nassau and Suffolk, and whipping winds limited visibility, turning the evening rush on the LIE and other major routes into a slippery slog.

Forecasters expected nearly 2 feet of snow to pile up in parts of Suffolk by this morning.

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a state of emergency Friday afternoon to help deal with "a serious, severe storm," but also offered a ray of optimism just three months after superstorm Sandy.

"We've been through worse," he said. "So it's all relative, at the end of the day."

The wrath of the mammoth winter storm, on course to punish much of the Northeast, was felt on Long Island by early evening. By 7 p.m., wind gusts were measured at 48 mph and 11 inches of snow had fallen in Stony Brook, the National Weather Service said.

Several thousand flights in and out of New York were canceled, and airports throughout the region closed after nightfall. Many schools and civic organizations scrapped afternoon and evening classes or activities.

Several roads on the Island, including the Seaford Oyster Bay Expressway, were closed by authorities after being deemed impassable.

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The storm's powerful winds also played havoc with the Island's fragile power grid, still recovering from Sandy. By 10 p.m., there were more than 10,000 power outages in Nassau and Suffolk, according to LIPA.

National Grid said its estimate of about 100,000 storm-caused power outages could be revised upward if conditions worsened during the night, but it didn't expect any blackouts to last more than a day.

There were no immediate reports of major flooding. With a new moon bringing high tides, the storm surge was expected to be as high as 4 to 5 feet.

MTA officials planned to continue Long Island Rail Road service during the storm but cautioned that they would have to stop operations to clear tracks after snow accumulations of a foot or more.

Long Islanders rushed to supermarkets and hardware stores to stock up on supplies. There were also long lines at some service stations, with anxious motorists fearing a reprise of Sandy's gas shortages.

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The only major grocery store still open in Far Rockaway, Queens, was packed with customers Friday afternoon.

Leeann Rivera, 43, stocked up on cat food with her 9-year-old son, Frankie. The Sandy victim was able to move back from a hotel to her apartment only last week.

"A little snow doesn't scare me," Rivera said. "But if we were talking about the type of damage that Sandy did, I'd be gone. I would leave New York right now."

Ann Marie Brady and her husband were planning to ride out the storm on the second floor of their Lindenhurst house -- still under repair after Sandy. They nervously watched the Great South Bay and had plans for a quick evacuation with his 12-year-old daughter, Morgan, and their year-old son, John.

"The minute it gets scary, we'll be gone," said Brady, 39, a first-grade teacher. "If I see that the streets start to flood, then we leave."

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A blizzard warning remained in effect until 1 p.m. Saturday for Nassau and Suffolk, and New York City, where 11-14 inches of snow were expected.

With AP, Ellen Yan and Bart Jones

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