LI prepares for 'Nemo' with lessons learned from Sandy

Officials in Suffolk and Nassau are making preparations for Friday's snowstorm. Videojournalist: Staff (Feb. 7, 2013)

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Extra power transformers were brought in and salt trucks loaded Thursday as Long Island officials assured residents they were prepared for Friday's damaging snowstorm and high winds.

In the wake of public criticism over the utility's handling of superstorm Sandy, the Long Island Power Authority gave its contractor, National Grid, the "commanding" role in managing the response to a blizzard that could cause more than 100,000 outages, the utility said in a statement Thursday.

The utility said it prestocked extra equipment to restore power, including transformers, and was securing "hundreds" of workers to support the 500 linemen, 150 tree trimmers and others already at hand.

In Nassau, County Executive Edward Mangano said that 175 public works employees would be on the job Thursday night and Friday. The county has 18,000 tons of salt and 5,000 cubic yards of sand at its disposal, he said.

In Suffolk, County Executive Steve Bellone said the storm "could be one of the worst we've seen in years . . . particularly in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy. We're doing everything we can to prepare for the worst."

He said the Red Cross will be ready to open shelters "at a moment's notice."

Thursday's repeated warnings and assurances come after Sandy's devastation caught many by surprise, leading Long Islanders to accuse government, utility and other officials of failing to prepare for the worst and leaving their cries for help unanswered.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Thursday declared a state of emergency for the blizzard, which could hammer Long Island from 6 a.m. Friday to 1 p.m. Saturday. State officials urged commuters to be home Friday before the evening rush hour, and said shoreline residents should seek alternate shelter to avoid the teeth of the storm, from about 6 p.m. Friday to 10 a.m. the next day.

The Long Island Rail Road is "preparing for the worst" and will be prepared to temporarily suspend all service if the looming storm drops more than 10 inches of snow on the tracks, the agency's president said Thursday.

LIRR president Helena Williams said her staff is closely monitoring forecasts and will be ready with extra personnel and equipment, including special trains that coat the electrified third rail with antifreeze and locomotives stationed at key locations to rescue stranded trains.

"If we do get over 10 or 11 inches, we will have to temporarily suspend service in order to clean the right of way with special equipment," Williams said.

Eight extra trains will be on the tracks between 2:09 p.m. and 3:48 p.m. for workers leaving in advance of the brunt of the storm, the LIRR said Thursday night. They'll run on the Babylon, Port Jefferson, Port Washington and Far Rockaway branches, the rail road said. Also, the 2:50 p.m. train from Huntington to Port Jefferson will originate in Jamaica at 1:46 p.m., the LIRR said.

Williams said she expects that most LIRR customers will be home, and not on trains, when the worst of the storm arrives after the Friday evening rush hour. That should give her crews time to restore the system before the Monday morning commute, she said.

Long Island officials also advised residents to prepare for the blizzard. They warned of power outages, flooding and almost impossible travel due to wind gusts reaching up to 60 mph and snowfall of up to 20 inches. But they do not expect the storm to be as devastating as October's superstorm Sandy.

"This is the time . . . to prepare yourselves," said Mangano said at a noon news conference. He urged residents not to drive during the storm "unless it's absolutely necessary."

He said the county Office of Emergency Management has been activated and a hotline, 888-684-4274, will be open Friday for nonemergencies, such as downed trees and stuck cars.

In Long Beach, where a snow emergency has been issued for 6 a.m. Friday, public works employees will be out salting, sanding and plowing streets as soon as necessary on Friday, City Council President Scott Mandel said in a statement. "Snow removal operations will continue around the clock to ensure the safety of our roads," the statement said.

Long Beach warned drivers to move their vehicles from designated snow emergency routes, which are listed in the "city newsletter" section of the Long Beach website, longbeachny.gov.

The city was one of the hardest hit by Sandy, but spokesman Gordon Tepper said officials don't expect the snow to exacerbate damage caused by Sandy: "We're not anticipating that there will be flooding issues. The bottom line is we are fully prepared."

In Hempstead Town, crews were loading salt onto trucks and readying snow removal equipment. Supervisor Kate Murray said the town is ready for an early Friday morning storm.

With Patrick Whittle, Aisha Al-Muslim, Mark Harrington, Alfonso A. Castillo, Sid Cassese and Paul LaRocco

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