Storm stranded more than 200 cars on LIE

Trucker driver Saineba Ceesay says he has been Trucker driver Saineba Ceesay says he has been stuck on the LIE since 2 p.m. on Feb. 8 between exits 68 and 70 in the west bound lane. (Feb. 9, 2012) Photo Credit: John Roca

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Hundreds of stuck cars, vans and trucks, blanketed in snow, clogged Suffolk County roadways and left their drivers with a stark choice: Stay the night, or abandon the vehicles to make their way to shelter.

On the Long Island Expressway, on the parkways, on Route 347, on Middle Country and Nicolls roads and elsewhere, at least 175 vehicles remained strewn Saturday afternoon -- the standout image of the nor'easter that hit the Island on Friday afternoon, cranked up to blizzard force, and raged until Saturday morning.

"The snow just swallowed them up," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a midday news conference. "I've never seen anything like this one."

Police said they rescued at least 150 stranded motorists. The National Guard, with Humvees and snowmobiles, helped more than 20 drivers, said Col. Thomas Owens, wing commander of the 106th Rescue Wing New York Air National Guard base in Westhampton, which Cuomo mobilized.

Authorities were using payloaders to haul away some stranded vehicles by late afternoon Saturday.

The county is paying tow truck drivers a flat rate to move vehicles out of the roadways, an effort that is being supplemented by local and state police, officials said. Motorists will not have to pay for moving their vehicles, they said.

A Suffolk County police spokeswoman also said vehicles that motorists left behind will not be impounded.

About 200 vehicles were stuck on the LIE during the blizzard, authorities said, with a particularly bad stretch between exits 50 and 60 in both directions. Many vehicles became stuck at Exit 63 in the area of Farmingville, Medford and Holtsville, where some of the Island's highest snow amounts registered.

Heavily trafficked secondary roads where many vehicles were stuck included Nicolls Road, Middle Country Road and Yaphank Avenue.

Cuomo defended the decision not to close state roads earlier Friday, saying that doing so would have left thousands of people stuck at work, or trapped on different roads.

"We wanted people to be able to get home, too," he said. "It's not an easy call."

Officials noted that they'd urged motorists to stay off the roads on Friday.

At the intersection of Route 347 and New Moriches Road, the site of a command post serving dozens of motorists whose vehicles were stranded nearby, the Greater New York Red Cross supplied blankets, snacks and other emergency staples, Red Cross spokesman Michael de Vulpillieres said.

Among the tales of blizzard woe:

 

Journey from Brooklyn

Richard Ebbrecht left his Brooklyn chiropractic office at 3 p.m. Friday, thinking he'd beat the big snowstorm home to Middle Island. But the storm beat him.

It took Ebbrecht, 47, five hours to reach Exit 63 on the LIE. It took a few more hours to dig his Toyota Camry out of the service road there.

Around 1 a.m. Saturday, he finally made it onto Middle Country Road. And there his car got stuck again, this time for good.

At times, Ebbrecht said, he and about nine other motorists tried to dig themselves out. At other times he huddled in his car, drinking Vitamin Water and listening to the radio.

"We didn't see any plows out there," he said. "We were wondering, 'Did they forget about us out here?' "

Ebbrecht considered himself one of the lucky ones. He was only about two miles from his home. Around dawn, he left his car and walked there.

"I feel bad because there are still some people out there," he said by phone from home Saturday. "There was a diabetic woman and her husband stuck in their car. He walked back four or five miles to their house to get insulin."

 

A 15-hour trip home

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Thomas DeMartino's nearly 15-hour trip home Friday night began in a warm Chrysler in Queens. It ended in the cold of Saturday morning in Selden, wading through hip-deep snow to his home.

DeMartino, 62, a caterer who stayed at Douglaston Manor in Queens until 6:30 p.m. Friday, overseeing final preparations for a wedding party, said it took him three hours to reach Exit 62 on the Long Island Expressway.

By then, he said, visibility was nil and traffic was moving at 5 mph. He made the turn onto Nicolls Road and began the next one onto Middle Country Road -- and that was as far as he got.

"That ramp had not been plowed," DeMartino said.

His car got stuck in an embankment. Soon, he was joined by other motorists in the same predicament, including the driver of an 18-wheeler, he said.

He found a mint in the change drawer and ate that. He shared some bottled water with the truck driver, who lent him his cellphone charger.

DeMartino said he ran the heat intermittently to save gas, buttoned up his parka and scrunched his baseball cap tight.

"We were just hoping someone would come to help us," he said. "We called the police, and they said to stay put, hopefully help is on the way."

It was not, though DeMartino said he saw municipal trucks drive past.

About 9 a.m. Saturday, he left the relative comfort of the Chrysler and hitched a ride from a stranger. The local streets hadn't yet been plowed, DeMartino said, so he hiked the last half-mile.

The snow was so deep it took 45 minutes. "My heart was pounding out of my chest," he said.

 

Stranded after helping

Truck driver Saineba Ceesay stopped his big rig on the LIE to help stranded cars and ended up stranded himself, marooned between exits 68 and 69 until late Saturday afternoon.

"Oh, boy, now -- 23, 24, 25 -- it's been 26 hours," a Zen-sounding Ceesay said about 4 p.m. Saturday.

The native of the West African nation of The Gambia, who now lives in Queens, was hauling mail between Bethpage and Riverhead. A veteran trucker, he had come prepared for a long haul, with homemade fried salmon, spinach salad, Italian dressing and water.

But not that long a haul. By hour 26, about 4:15 p.m., he was lamenting during a phone interview that his food supply would run out when he got another call.

"I gotta go," he said. "My tow truck is calling me!"

With Bill Bleyer and Deon J. Hampton

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