Long Islanders endured darkened homes, flooding, treacherous roadways and loss of life as they continued to struggle Tuesday night with devastation from one of the worst storms in the Island's history.
The death toll from the superstorm Sandy, which battered the region Monday night into Tuesday, rose to at least four on Long Island and, by early Wednesday, 22 in New York City. The Island's fatalities included two men killed by falling trees, a woman found in the surf in East Hampton, and a woman who died when the car she was riding in was broadsided by a Suffolk police car at a darkened Port Jefferson Station intersection.
Tuesday night, a conserve water order was issued for a large portion of Nassau County because the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant had stopped working. The order affects residents west of the Meadowbrook Parkway to the Queens County line who live south of the Long Island Expressway. Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said residents should conserve water as much as possible until further notice.
Crime, at least in some places, didn't stop despite the storm, and city officials in Long Beach weren't taking any chances.
City Manager Jack Schnirman told News12 Long Island on Tuesday night that they will be enforcing an overnight curfew into Wednesday morning to prevent any possible looting of homes and businesses still without power.
If anyone is "caught violating the curfew, they will end up at the police station," Schnirman said.
Suffolk police said they arrested two men who had robbed a gas station in Amityville early Tuesday. An employee was held up at gunpoint at about 3:50 a.m. while working the overnight shift at the Mega Gas station on Broadway. The station had no electricity but was being powered by a small generator when a man knocked on the station's locked door. The worker opened the door and the suspect, armed with a shotgun, forced his way in. The gunmen and an accomplice were caught some time later, police said.
On the streets, the superstorm's destruction was hard to miss anywhere on the Island.
In Westhampton, roadways were inundated and neighborhoods in the South Shore communities of Mastic and Babylon remained submerged beneath tidal floodwaters. Tuesday morning, the 106th Rescue Wing of the Air National Guard had rescued about 200 people in Lindenhurst, after firefighters earlier had rescued more than 100.
Lindenhurst Village Clerk-Treasurer Shawn Cullinane called it "the worst storm we've ever seen."
In Long Beach, six homes burned in the canals neighborhood, leaving only chimneys and staircases behind, and cars were mired in sand washed onto roads from the beach. City officials said there was no water or sewer service, and untreated water was still a health hazard. In Freeport, the wind-driven floods left a 40-foot powerboat sitting in the middle of a major intersection.
On the North Shore, dozens of boats broke loose from their moorings or sank in Oyster Bay Harbor and in Mill Neck Creek.
Long Island Rail Road officials said the nation's largest commuter railroad remained at a standstill and they could not predict when it would resume operations. Crews on Tuesday started clearing storm-tossed debris from hundreds of miles of track across the system's 11 branches, including more than a half-dozen boats and three huge shipping containers on the rails just north of the Long Beach station.
Officials warned drivers to stay off roads where hundreds of traffic lights remained out Tuesday night. If drivers who ventured out came upon non-working traffic lights, they were advised to heed the rules of an all-way stop sign, police said. Whether motorists took the advice was another story. In Huntington Village, South Huntington and Melville, motorists barely slowed down as they drove Tuesday night through pitch-black intersections -- some drivers going north and south, others east and west. On numerous occasions, motorists narrowly missed colliding.
At a Commack intersection late Tuesday afternoon, inoperable traffic lights may have contributed to a multivehicle crash that seriously injured two brothers from West Babylon, police said. The pair were passengers in a 1994 Plymouth Voyager heading southbound on Moreland Road that was struck by a 1983 Cadillac traveling westbound on Motor Parkway, police said. They were taken to Southside Hospital in Bay Shore where they were listed in serious condition Tuesday night.
Elsewhere, the power outages continued to take their toll on Long Island school schedules.
Most schools throughout Nassau and Suffolk were to remain closed Wednesday for a third straight day. Many stores were shuttered, and thousands of people stayed home from work. Everyday life for millions was still chaotic, unpredictable and with no sense of a return to normal anytime soon.
New York City was eerily quiet, with most major tunnels and bridges closed, along with Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, schools, the New York Stock Exchange and Broadway theaters. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said that not since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks had the city seen such devastation.
The NYSE said it would reopen Wednesday, and limited flights were expected to resume at Kennedy.
Lower Manhattan, including Wall Street, was among the hardest-hit areas, absorbing a record surge of seawater -- nearly 14 feet at the Battery -- that spilled over sea walls and highways. Water filled the construction areas at the World Trade Center.
On both the Island and in the city, electricity was a luxury: A record 83 percent of LIPA's customers lost it, with about 893,000 customers still without power Wednesday morning. In the city, more than 750,000 customers in the five boroughs had no electricity after dark.
"This will go down as perhaps the largest disaster in Long Island history," said Michael Hervey, LIPA's chief operating officer.
The impact of the storm even had election officials scrambling to determine whether the more than 700 polling sites on Long Island will be operable for Tuesday's presidential election.
State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said he was "stunned by the devastation of Hurricane Sandy," while Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills) said he was taken aback after spending two hours Tuesday afternoon flying around Long Island with the Coast Guard.
"I saw roads that looked like creeks and creeks that looked like small harbors," Israel said.
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola), who also went on the aerial tour, said, "I haven't seen storm damage this bad in my lifetime here on Long Island."
It was unclear when the city's subway system would be running again -- seven subway tunnels under the East River alone were flooded. Joseph Lhota, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said the damage was the worst in the New York Subway's 108-year history.
Authorities said the death toll from the storm in New York City was at least a dozen people.
Speaking at the American Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C., President Barack Obama, who is planning to visit New Jersey's ravaged coast on Wednesday, promised "to do everything we can do to get aid" to people affected by the storm, and that there would be "no bureaucracy, no red tape."
"America is with you," the president said. "Obviously this is something that is heartbreaking for the entire nation."
The storm had started to dissipate Tuesday, though strong winds with gusts as high as 30 mph persisted into the evening. Meteorologists said such a massive amount of water had been pushed into the region by the storm, creating a near-record surge, that it would take days to fully return to normal levels.
LIPA said 933,000 of its 1.1 million customers lost power during the storm. That surpassed the previous record of 750,000 after Hurricane Gloria in 1985.
LIPA said it expected to get up to eight substations back by late Tuesday night, meaning another 100,000 could regain power. That would leave about 820,000 with no electricity -- still a record.
Hervey said it would take at least 10 days, "and very possibly more," to reach full restoration.
Emergency workers went by boat, land and police helicopter to reach Fire Island and check on the dozens of people who stayed there during the storm despite a mandatory evacuation order, said Joe Williams, commissioner of Suffolk County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services. Some asked to be evacuated Tuesday.
At least a dozen homes on Fire Island were destroyed, some of them washed out to sea, said Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone. The barrier beach sustained four breaches, or breakthroughs, as the Atlantic Ocean cut a path across Fire Island and into the Great South Bay, officials said. Moriches Inlet, created by the Hurricane of 1938, is also now twice as wide as it was before Hurricane Sandy hit.
"Fire Island has been devastated," Bellone said.
One breach on the east end of Fire Island was so deep it could create a new inlet that would sever the island, said Chris Soller, superintendent of Fire Island National Seashore. He called the damage the worst since the Hurricane of 1938, dubbed the "Long Island Express."
Other officials told of harrowing moments Monday night and early Tuesday morning as emergency workers rescued scores of residents stranded in their flooded homes during the height of the storm. Massapequa Park Mayor James Altadonna Jr. said he and his highways supervisor, Richard Muller, maneuvered flooded streets using village dump trucks as they rescued residents.
"I tell you, I never prayed so hard," he said Tuesday. "We've been doing rescues all night."
At one point, he said they rescued residents from homes that had burned to the water line in the Massapequa hamlet's Old Harbour Green neighborhood. Altadonna said he did not know why they had burned, but had asked the National Grid to shut off the gas.
With John Valenti, Ellen Yan, Gary Dymski, Mark Harrington, James T. Madore, Kevin Deutsch, Chau Lam, Will Van Sant, Emily Ngo, Deon J. Hampton, Bill Bleyer and Patricia Kitchen and Bloomberg News