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Live updates: Winter storm hits LI

Truck driver Saineba Ceesay says was stuck for

Truck driver Saineba Ceesay says was stuck for hours on the Long Island Expressway between exits 68 and 70 westbound. (Feb. 9, 2012) (Credit: John Roca)

UPDATED 9:30 P.M.

There was no road, just powder

Newsday reporter Candice Ruud attempted to drive to Southold on Friday night, to be positioned -- as assigned -- to cover the effects of the snowstorm on Saturday. She got a late start because of a story she had to complete for Saturday's paper. Here is her account of that white-knuckle journey.


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I left Melville around 6:45 p.m., headed to the North Fork so I could cover the blizzard’s effects on the East End.

Navigating the Long Island Expressway slowly in my old Acura, I felt fine. There was a lot of snow on the expressway, but tire marks had made clear delineations between lanes, and other drivers were patient for the most part. It looked like a regular Friday night -- TONS of cars on the road.

Traffic was slow and steady, no stopping and starting. The farther east I went, the more it tapered off.

Around Exit 55, things sped up and the amount of cars on the road dropped off. At that point, there was no snowfall – just wind blowing snow around. But at about 8:30, when I passed Exit 63, the roads became unpredictable and treacherous.

The snow was heavy and thick, blowing sideways and falling so fast I couldn’t keep my windshield clear enough to see. There were fewer cars, but the highway was far less traveled. Soon, my windshield wipers completely stopped working – they were packed with snow and ice – and I had to pull over.

I got out of my car on the side of the LIE and started to knock the snow and ice off my wipers and windshield. But the accumulation was so fast and wet and heavy. Every time I went back into my car to try to make the windshield wipers start, I had to get back out and knock more snow off.

By the time I knocked enough chunks of ice off for my wipers to start, my car was stuck. A few minutes earlier, I had gotten a call from Newsday that Suffolk County was closing the LIE. But I was completely stuck and alone -- and nowhere near close to where I needed to be. Soon, five incredibly chivalrous guys in a GMC SUV pulled over and shoved me out of the snow, back onto the highway.

I was too scared to stop again. I had glimpsed how bad the exit ramps and side roads off the LIE were, so I called editors at Newsday and asked them to guide me to the closest hotel. I was panicky and tired and already had spent more than two hours driving.

After Exit 66, road conditions completely deteriorated. There was no road, just powder. Steering my car felt like steering an old boat. I snaked around five cars, all of which were stuck in a snowdrift near one other, with some facing the wrong way. I didn't stop because I was scared to lose momentum and get stuck. Shortly after, I darted around a huge plow truck that was clearly trying to block the expressway – because I wasn't supposed to be on it.

At that point along the LIE, it felt like there were about five miles between each exit. Finally, at Exit 72, I pulled into the Indigo Hotel. I got stuck trying to park my car and just left it, with my whole trunk jutting out into the road. It was 10:15, and parking courteously was not high on my priority list.

-- CANDICE RUUD 

UPDATED 8:45 P.M.

No plows came during the night

The vehicles on Route 347 outside the Smith Haven Mall were one snowbound, snow-covered mess, like a frame from the apocalyptic film "The Day After Tomorrow."

Among the 50 or so motorists trapped on the road in Lake Grove during the blizzard was Newsday photographer John Paraskevas, on his way home to Stony Brook on Friday night about 10 p.m.

"All of a sudden I saw all these cars stuck in different directions ahead of me, pointed every which-way,” he said.

And not only cars. A few 18-wheelers and even a Suffolk County police cruiser were among the stranded vehicles, Paraskevas said.

He tried to pass and soon got stuck himself. Then, he and some of his fellow snow-prisoners tried to dig out. They soon gave up.

“People were kind of frustrated,” said Paraskevas, 61. “They’d all had long days, long commutes, and they were cold.”

He ran the heater in his SUV and tried to sleep, but couldn't. So he talked to his wife, Jane, on his cellphone or went out to shoot more pictures.

No plows arrived during the night, he said.

About 9 a.m., firefighters from the Nesconset and St. James departments arrived, knocking on windows to check if motorists were OK.

One woman, worried about her pet dog, sent it ahead to a warming station at the Nesconset fire house and followed later.

The firefighters eventually persuaded a worker who was plowing the mall parking lot to help extricate the motorists, Paraskevas said.

At 3:45 p.m., he finally made it home. Then he had to shovel out his driveway.

-- NICHOLAS SPANGLER 

UPDATED 6 P.M. 

15-hour epic journey home

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 had the company of 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.
-- Nicholas Spangler


UPDATED 5:47 P.M.

Stuck, but vowing not to call a tow

In Huntington, 36-year-old smoke shop owner Harry Shah spent more than an hour trying to remove his silver Honda from two feet of snow just off Route 110, across the street from Walt Whitman Mall.

The Huntington resident Saturday afternoon was checking on the first of his two stores, ensuring there wasn’t any snow-related damage.

Shah and a friend, Richie Patel, 23, of Huntington, took turns getting behind the wheel to steer the sedan out of the snow pile and back onto the road.

They weren’t successful.

“Good luck to us,” said Shah, thinking of ways to remove the car.

Right then, a passerby, Paul Tonna, 54, of Huntington, offered assistance.

This was the first time Tonna, who has eight children, had left his home since the storm struck Friday night.

He said he wanted to see how bad the roads were and was searching for an open pizza parlor to bring food back to his eight children.

But for now, food would have to wait.

Together they used all their strength to push the Honda out, but only made minimal progress. Eventually, Tonna had to leave, offering his best wishes to the pair of friends.

Ten minutes past, the cold winter temperatures were dropping, but Shah vowed to not have the car towed.

“There’s no way I’m leaving the car. I’m going to get it out.”
-- Deon Hampton


UPDATED 4:45 P.M.

Big rig driver gets stuck after helping stranded motorists

No good deed goes unpunished — at least for truck driver Saineba Ceesay, who stopped his big rig on the Long Island Expressway to help stranded passenger cars.

Ceesay wound up stranded himself, he said as he entered his second day marooned in the snow between Exits 68 and 69.

“I was moving fine on the expressway but the little cars in front of me, they get stuck,” he said.

“Oh, boy, now — 23, 24, 25 — it’s been 26 hours,” a Zen-sounding Ceesay said.

The Gambia native, who now lives in Jamaica, Queens, and is married with seven children, was hauling mail in the truck Thursday between Bethpage and Riverhead.

A veteran trucker of at least two previous stranding sagas, Ceesay came prepared for a long haul: foodstuffs of homemade fried salmon, spinach salad, Italian dressing and water.

But not this long a haul. By hour 26, at 4:15 p.m. Saturday, the Tupperware gourmand was lamenting during a phone interview that his food supply would run out. That's when he got another call.

“I gotta go,” he said. “My tow truck is calling me!”
-- Matthew Chayes


UPDATED 4:04 P.M.

‘The patients rely on us’

On wheels these helpers were helpless. So they just hoofed it to work.

Rising before dawn Saturday for their jobs at Stony Brook University Hospital, Mike Cullen, 47, and Chris Ward, 40, looked outside and realized their vehicles were hopelessly snowed in.

“If we had a bulldozer we couldn’t get out of our driveway,” Cullen recalled. And so the Stony Brook residents trudged together a little over a mile through more than three feet of snow to the campus, where Cullen is an assistant facilities director and Ward is a parking official.

“The guy who does all the plowing is plowed in!” Cullen said.

(Among Cullen’s official responsibilities is keeping Stony Brook plowed.)

Along the way, Cullen and Ward helped stranded motorists dig out, Cullen said. That, and a sense of duty encouraged the pair to helping fellow colleagues.

“We have to get here,” Cullen recalled thinking. “The patients rely on us.”
-- Matthew Chayes


UPDATED 3:34 P.M.

Little business on Main Street in Southampton

Few shops are open on Main Street here in Southampton. Scarcely any people pass by, a few couples walk their dogs. But on Jobs Lane there is Sean Marsicovetere, an assistant manager for Stevensons Toys, hard at work, shoveling out the walkway in front; making sure the display is just right.

Marsicovetere, 26 -- and his bosses -- are performing their due diligence. Among its vast toy collection, they’re hoping a handful of sleds will sell. Marsicovetere stands with two of them, the traditional-wood paneled one, and a more advanced “Trick 360” foam slider model. Inside, there are more complex ones, too, including saucer-shaped sleds.

He does not expect many to sell. But today, other shopkeepers say, the village is more heavily populated in the winter. There are more Manhattanites staying in the village than there were a decade ago, said Keith Davis, owner of the Golden Pear Cafe on Main Street.

Marsicovetere said his expectations were low -- “a couple of brave souls, maybe.” Referring to the snow, he said, “people don’t know how to cope with it.”

By midday, he was more optimistic. Within less than two hours, six have sold, more than he thought. He said he was expecting Southampton to resemble a ghost town. But more and more, "people are coming out to play in the snow."
-- Scott Eidler


Snow-shoveling entrepreneur in Riverhead

Juan Randolfo Ruiz, 29, of Riverhead spent the day trying to work the blizzard's effects to his financial advantage by offering to dig people out of their snowy driveways and front lawns. Ruiz said he can get as much as $50 or more for shoveling people out of several feet of snow. But he got turned down on East Main Street by a woman with an untouched lawn full of powder.

"She said her boyfriend was going to do it," Ruiz said.
-- Candice Ruud


22 homeless men sheltered in Huntington

Twenty-two homeless men were put up in a Huntington motel last night.

Peggy Boyd, Family Service League vice president, said the men were sent to the motel because the town’s Interfaith Homeless Initiative couldn’t operate Friday night or Saturday because of the snow.

About 28 religious congregations are part of the volunteer-run initiative; each night one acts as an overnight respite for homeless individuals and families, serving about 30 people.

Boyd said volunteers made sandwiches and packed up snacks for the men Friday and that the 22 were slated to stay there again Saturday night.

She said she has not received any reports of any of Family Service League clients being injured or hospitalized because of the storm.

Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone said the town's warming centers aren't open now but they are "all ready to open at a moment's notice."
-- Mackenzie Issler


All LI parks closed

George Gorman Jr., deputy regional director for state parks, said all 32 park units on Long Island would stay closed while the staff conducts a damage assessment and handles snow removal. There are no plans yet to open any of the parks for sledding or other winter activities.
-- Bill Bleyer


Winds less forceful than expected

National Grid this morning said winds that were less forceful than expected helped reduce outages to around a tenth of what was expected--around 10,000 through Friday night.

"The system held up very well," said National Grid spokeswoman Wendy Ladd. "We didn't get the winds that were predicted, so we lucked out."

Outages were reduced to around 9,000 as of 10 p.m., Ladd said. And while some new outages could be reported as customers wake Saturday morning, she said she didn't expect any significant increase through the day. Crews have been dispatched to handle most of the outages.

The biggest problem for the utility was getting crews to repair sites where roads had not been plowed, particularly on the East End, Ladd said.

Ladd said winds reached a high of around 50 miles per hour, lower than the 70 mph that were expected. Through Saturday, winds aren't expected to cause significant new outages, she said.
-- Mark Harrington


Stuck, over and over, but feeling lucky

Richard Ebbrecht left his Brooklyn office at 3 p.m. Friday, thinking he’d beat the blizzard home to Middle Island.

But the blizzard beat him, as it did many who were trapped overnight on the Long Island Expressway.

It took Ebbrecht five hours to reach Exit 63 on the LIE. It took a few more hours to dig out of the service road there. Around 1 a.m. he got onto MIddle Country Road. There he got stuck again, this time for good.

Sometimes he and about nine other motorists tried to dig themselves out; sometimes he huddled in his Toyota Camry, 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 was one of the lucky ones, stuck around two miles from his home. Around dawn he left his car and walked home.

“I feel bad because there still some people out there,” he said by phone from home late morning 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.”

- Nicholas Spangler

Supervisor: We fared better than expected

Anna Throne-Holst, supervisor of Southampton Town, said the town fared much better than some were predicting.

"We were bracing for the worst," she said.

According to the supervisor, coastal areas in the town got hit, "but so far, I haven't seen any major damage."

That news was "good for the South Shore beaches that were so badly hurt during the hurricane," she said.

Throne-Holst added that there were no major emergencies reported by the town's emergency response unit, though the town is still in a state of emergency.

"All in all, we need to plow out at this point," she said.

She added that there were about 800 reported LIPA outages in the town, but that LIPA crews were working on repairs.
-- Scott Eidler


UPDATED 2:48 P.M.

VIllages comment on snowstorm

UPDATED 2:24 P.M.

Storm officially deemed a blizzard

The snowstorm that hit Long Island met the National Weather Service's definition of a blizzard. There was visibility of less than a quarter-mile for three hours, combined with wind gusts of at least 35 mph for three hours.

This was clocked/measured at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma.

-- Bill Bleyer

UPDATED 2:09 P.M.

Man faces crucible getting home in storm

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, as it did scores of motorists who were stuck and stranded on the Long Island Expressway -- some of them overnight.

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 shortly before noon 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.”

-- Nicholas Spangler

UPDATED 1:56 P.M.

Ambulances stranded in Holtsville

Two ambulances stranded on a Long Island Expressway on-ramp in Holtsville, NY

UPDATED 1:38 P.M.

Can you dig it?

Wow. That's a lot of snow & our street is buried like our lawns @…

 

UPDATED 1:25 P.M.

Share your LIRR snow stories

UPDATED 1:10 P.M.

Snowstorm is for the dogs

UPDATED 1:01 P.M.

Brookhaven Town to help Suffolk remove abandoned cars

The Town of Brookhaven has announced that it will assist Suffolk County to remove abandoned vehicles from county roads. If anyone believes that their car has been moved from where they abandoned it, they should call 631-451-TOWN (8696). The town asks that if your vehicle has been abandoned, you should make arrangements to have it safely removed as soon as possible.

-- Newsday Staff

UPDATED 12:30 P.M.

Large snowdrifts in Southold Town

Across the Town of Southold, because of the open farm fields and vineyards, the north wind is blowing snow and creating 4- and 5-foot drifts on east-west roads. State and town highway crews worked throughout the night to keep Route 48 and Route 25 open, although as of noon Saturday both roads remained closed and under a state of emergency. Town highway crews are plowing the same roads every hour to keep the drifts from building back up.

All the major business districts -- Mattituck, Cutchogue and Southold, as well as the Village of Greenport -- are all but abandoned and all shops closed.

-- Steve Wick

UPDATED 11:55 P.M.

Searching for a license plate

Almost to my car. I can see a license plate! @ Lake Ronkonkoma, NY…

 

UPDATED 11:41 A.M.

More than 20 inches in Holtsville

 

UPDATED 11:30 P.M.

Taking in the storm one step at a time

Those are my steps to get out of my basement apt in @ Lake…

 

UPDATED 11:24 A.M.

Brookhaven executive order to stay off roads

The Town of Brookhaven issued an Emergency Executive Order Saturday morning calling for all vehicles to stay off the roads. Driving conditions remain extremely hazardous due to the heavy accumulation of snow and ice, as well as abandoned vehicles obstructing access for snowplows and emergency vehicles. Town crews are working to clear the roads and will continue their efforts until all are safe and passable.

The Town will also be sending out e-mail alerts to residents who have registered on the town's e-mail list. If you are not on the list, you can sign up today at www.brookhaven.org. Residents can also sign up for countywide Code Red alerts at www.suffolkcountyny.gov.

-- Newsday Staff

UPDATED 10:44 A.M.

All roads in Town of Huntington closed

Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone has announced that all roads in the town are officially closed and urged residents to stay home Saturday.

"Crews will be clearing through tomorrow," Petrone said in a news release. "But do not think that because your street is cleared, that means it is safe to venture out.  Even if your street has been cleared, that does not mean the next street over is passable."

-- Newsday Staff

UPDATED 9:30 A.M.

Huntington Station pelted by storm

17" in Huntington Station.

 

UPDATED 8:19 A.M.

Perilous parking on the North Fork

 

UPDATED 7:48 A.M.

150 cars abandoned on county road

One of the most impassable areas on Long Island is County Road 83 in the Farmingvile area, where 150 motorists abandoned their cars overnight between Granny and Mooney Pond Roads, said Edward Schneyer, Suffolk's director of emergency preparedness.

The vehicles could not make it up the road, so stranded drivers were taken to local fire departments or to Brookhaven Town Hall, turned into a warming center for those who couldn’t get home, he said.

“In either direction that you try to approach, it’s uphill,” Scheyer said. “Plows have a tough time on level ground so when they’re going uphill, it’s going to be even more difficult.”

He said officials will evaluate conditions after daybreak to determine when to reopen the roads: “We’re telling people to stay home.”

Many people never made it home after being stuck in their cars for seven hours or more.

As the major roadways became off limits, many motorists were funneled to secondary roads, where they were trapped by jams.

-- Ellen Yan

Tags: Winter storm , Nemo

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