A day after a propane tank leak caused 900 homes to be evacuated, life in Shirley slowly returned to normal as residents reflected Sunday on their neighborhood's close brush with disaster.
Julie and John Ospitale spent a quiet weekend day in the Grand Avenue house they've called home for 32 years after a nerve-racking 21 hours waiting for an evacuation order to be lifted.
"We kept thinking we could lose everything we worked for all of our lives," said Julie Ospitale. "We appreciate our little home a lot more than we did before."
The Ospitales were among hundreds of residents who returned home after spending Saturday holed up in an emergency shelter or with family.
Suffolk authorities said a cracked plastic valve on a propane tank behind a Kohl's shopping center sent thousands of gallons of the toxic flammable gas flooding into neighborhoods. Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said the leak, if ignited, "could have been a terrible disaster, a terrible explosion."
Some residents were still concerned Sunday that they could be in danger.
Monica Cedeno, of Mastic Boulevard, said police did not evacuate her house until 4:30 a.m., two hours later than many other houses. She had about 10 people over for a New Year's Eve gathering, including three small children.
"I'm worried that they could have been exposed," Cedeno said.
Steven and Cathy Carney of Ormond Place had their five dogs on their mind Sunday.
When the couple evacuated Saturday morning, they packed the pooches into two cars, drove to the shelter at William Floyd High School and made several trips out to walk the dogs, whom they had to leave in the car. Steven Carney even made a secret trip back to his house Saturday to pick up medicine for their yellow lab with muscular dystrophy.
"It was a long day for them," he said.
So on Sunday, as the couple let the dogs run through their backyard and have lots of play time, they contemplated what could have happened if the leak had ignited.
"We're not too far away," Steven Carney said. "We're pretty much ground zero."