Nighttime temperatures are expected to drop below freezing this week, as residents rebound from days without heat, hot water or electricity, and the National Weather Service predicted a nor'easter could hit New York's battered coastal areas Wednesday, with heavy rain and wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour.
Given the forecast, officials cautioned that the dropping mercury could prove deadly and advised victims of last week's superstorm Sandy to seek refuge in the hundreds of heated shelters in the region.
"We encourage them not to take a chance in their blacked-out home without heat," said Red Cross spokesman Larry Fortmuller. "They shouldn't be trying to tough it out, especially because the weather is dropping off so rapidly here."
He cautioned that people could succumb to fires from candles or carbon monoxide from generators in improperly exhausted homes.
The region's leaders concurred. "I urge residents, especially our most vulnerable, to make use of shelters and warming centers that are set up across the county," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in a statement.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the cold weather was the "most pressing" issue facing storm victims.
Across the storm-ravaged region, at least some of those affected appeared to be heeding the call to move into shelters. Red Cross officials said the number of people in its shelters in the tri-state area had increased by 1,000 since Sandy to about 6,000 -- about 1,300 of which were at its shelters on Long Island. Across Long Island, municipalities have opened community and recreation centers to storm victims, providing food, drink and places to sleep and shower.
The Town of North Hempstead has opened comfort stations from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with heat, showers and charging stations, at the Aquatic Activity Center at Tully Park in New Hyde Park, the Yes We Can Community Center in Westbury and the clubhouse at Harbor Links Golf Course in Port Washington.
Nassau County has opened three facilities for hot showers from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily until further notice at Cantiague Park in Hicksville, the Nassau County Aquatic Center in Eisenhower Park and the Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale.
In Huntington, eight warming centers have been set up, including the Dix Hills Ice Rink, which is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. this week, offering free skating, hot chocolate, device charging and hamburgers for sale, said Huntington spokesman A.J. Carter. "Kids with all this pent-up energy suddenly had a place to move around," he said.
Others tried to help their neighbors. Brandon Phillips, 33, of Lindenhurst, his wife and their two children drove through his low-lying community, south of Montauk Highway, distributing blankets, canned food and other supplies Sunday. The blankets, he said, were the most welcome donations.
"It has definitely become a desperate situation for people," said Phillips, who briefly lost power. "The temperatures are dropping. It's below freezing overnight."
Lindenhurst Mayor Thomas Brennan, who distributed meals to residents during the weekend, said morale was high, but that officials were "absolutely" advising residents without power to consider checking into the Deer Park Red Cross shelter.
Dawn Black, 41, said neighbors in the village had been sharing water pumps, generators and food. "If it weren't for these people, we'd never make it through this," Black said, adding that she was frustrated by the long wait for power to be restored.
"We made it through the week, though," said her partner, Anthony Fattoruso, 36.
"Yes," Black responded, "but it's getting colder."With Emily C. Dooley, Tania E. Lopez and Deon J. Hampton