More than 2,000 Long Islanders spilled into area shelters Monday, some carrying pillows and blankets from home as they claimed Spartan cots, milled about in their pajamas and adjusted to the unfamiliar din of strangers.
Kierra Coll, 23, and her family left their Cedarhurst home late Sunday to comply with evacuation orders. After a white-knuckle drive through a maze of back roads, they arrived at Nassau Community College's physical education complex at 11 p.m.
"All the roads were blocked," Coll said beside a cot covered by a Red Cross blanket.
Todd Bernard and his mother, who has multiple sclerosis, spent Sunday night at the Red Cross shelter at Brentwood High School, where he graduated a decade ago.
"I used to take an art class right next to this cafeteria," said Bernard, 28, a barber from Deer Park. He and more than 40 other people spent the night on Sunday, Red Cross officials said. It felt odd to sleep in a school gymnasium with so many strangers, but it worked out well, Bernard said.
"I heard a lot of babies crying through the night," he said with a laugh. "It was a new situation for everybody but it was very comfortable."
The mood was light at the Red Cross Shelter at Riverhead High School on Monday. Some 50 people spent the night there Sunday -- there were about three times as many visitors by Monday afternoon.
Dottie and Gene Hasheider of Riverhead were concerned about downed trees and power lines. Calverton couple Milly and Sandy Sanjek came to the shelter instead of heading to their daughter's because they were worried about road conditions. "Going is not a problem," Milly Sanjek said. "But coming back is."
Despite their concerns, the atmosphere was cheerful. Children ran around the hallways, and the elderly sat chatting and laughing.
"I'm having a ball, and all these chicks are around," said Joe Labosco, 85, of Calverton, gesturing to a group of new friends.
The Red Cross shelter at Locust Valley High School housed 90 people by Monday evening, but had room for more.
This is the first time they decided to leave their home for a weather emergency. Their neighbor persuaded them.
"She said 'I can get you out now,' " said Jody Gillen of her neighbor. " 'I won't be able to do it later.' "