Nor'easter wreaks havoc on LI roads, rails

A nor'easter storm hit the area adding to A nor'easter storm hit the area adding to the misery caused by last week's superstorm Sandy. (Nov. 7, 2012) Photo Credit: David Pokress

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As a nor'easter brought more snow than expected, icy conditions, new flooding, fallen trees and downed wires all over Long Island forced authorities to close major roads and motorists to drive at a crawl.

Nassau got the brunt of the snowfall, according to data gathered by the National Weather Service. By 8 p.m., with the storm still going strong, about 3 inches of snow had fallen on Wantagh and Garden City, the service said.

Major roads were closed during the evening rush hour.

The Long Island Expressway was shut down about 5:45 p.m. in both directions at Exit 40-Jericho Turnpike in Jericho because of ice. Dire conditions and accidents stalled traffic on parts of every parkway, from flooding on the Wantagh State Parkway to a tree down on the eastbound Northern State Parkway in New Hyde Park.

Town and county officials had to quickly switch their focus from Sandy debris to snow conditions Wednesday afternoon as updated forecasts warned of up to 4 inches. Suffolk County public work crews were freed up to plow snow, while in Nassau, more than 140 sand and salt trucks were out in the nor'easter, officials said.

For several towns, the bigger challenge was not freeing up trucks and equipment from Sandy work, but two other issues: longer hours for "already tired" town and contractor crews, and roadway obstacles that may prevent some streets from being plowed.

"It's additional work for workers already tired from working very long shifts doing tree clearing, tree removal and other storm-related response," said Michael Deery, Hempstead Town spokesman. "They're alert. They're hardworking. But they're definitely being tested."

Wednesday night, the town decided to put salt down and plow priority areas, such as schools, firehouses and some of the bigger roads, he said. That's because some homes have electrical extension cords running across roadways to power sources, such as neighbors' homes, and it would be "adding insult to injury" if a snow plow cut power to Sandy victims, he said.

In Islip Town, where 8,000 tons of vegetation debris had been removed, employees on "vacuum" trucks Wednesday sucked out mud and debris from storm drains to cut down on flooding from the nor'easter, said spokeswoman Inez Birbiglia. Other workers were stationed with water pumps and generators in West Islip and Oakdale, areas that were especially battered by Sandy, she said.

Sand trucks were ready, she said, and plows would go out as needed, but some streets would be difficult to navigate due to Sandy, Birbiglia said: "If you go to Sequams Lane in West Islip, the street is fairly narrow to begin with and every other house has a Dumpster or tremendous piles of debris."

The nor'easter that blew across Long Island on Wednesday was bringing an unexpected amount of snow -- 2 to 4 inches before it turns to rain -- to Nassau and western Suffolk counties.

In addition to the roads, the nor'easter wreaked havoc on the rails.

The Long Island Rail Road twice suspended eastbound service around 6:30 p.m., citing "multiple weather-related problems," and then again around 9 p.m. There was very limited westbound service on the Huntington line.

The East End might escape the worst of the snow, but not the high winds it's packing.

"The strongest winds will likely be experienced over the twin forks," with gusts up to 65 mph, the National Weather service said in an afternoon advisory.

Nassau County had more than 140 sand and salt truck on the roads to deal with the wintry mix of snow, according to a spokesman for County Executive Edward Mangano.

In Suffolk, county public works crews that had been aiding towns and villages with tree removal efforts are now spreading salt on county roads, hoping that "proactive" measures such as that, in light of the relatively small amount of snow forecast, will prevent the need to use plows, according to a spokeswoman for County Executive Steve Bellone.

"But we have the available resources to plow if we need to," said county spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter.

The snow was a burden on a burden. The nor'easter beat down on residents and areas already battered by Sandy, and now the snow threatened to pile up on trees and power lines, creating a risk of more power outages.

"And temperatures lowering to about freezing will make travel difficult," the weather service advisory added.

Earlier, Suffolk County police reported multiple incidents of downed power lines in late afternoon, but there were no reported injuries.

The Town of Islip renewed a mandatory evacuation order Wednesday for all "low-lying, flood-prone areas on the South Shore" from Bayport to West Islip, including the Fire Island communities under its jurisdiction.

"We continued our evacuation of the category 1 hurricane flood zone as well as we extended the order on Fire Island to cover us through the nor'easter . . . because the low-lying areas that were devastated during Sandy particularly are vulnerable now . . ." Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci said.

Croci said there was expected to be a tide swell of 3 to 5 feet at Wednesday night's high tide, and that residents of hard-hit areas south of Montauk Highway who are without power should evacuate.

Residents there "should be wary that there could be additional flooding, making it impossible for them to get those resources," he said.

Mangano reminded residents in the midst of the nor'easter that a mandatory evacuation order remained in effect for those residing in flood or storm surge zones.

The county executive, along with the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management, made robo calls Tuesday night alerting residents about the nor'easter and reiterating that the evacuation order from last week still stands. He also called for residents to tie down and secure all items outside homes, as flying debris can be deadly.

The evacuation area is defined as south of Sunrise Highway, from the Queens line to Rockville Centre and south of Merrick Road, from Rockville Centre to the Nassau-Suffolk border. It also includes residents on the North Shore of Nassau County who reside in low-lying areas -- 15 feet above sea-level or less -- and storm surge zones.

"If you are in a flood zone, it is not a good idea to stay there," Nassau County spokesman Brian Nevin said Wednesday.

Residents should consider staying with friends or family on higher ground during the storm. They can also consider going to an emergency shelter: Nassau County Community College, Levittown Memorial High School, and a pet shelter, on 241 Miller Ave. in Garden City.

In Brookhaven, residents who change their minds about staying in homes without power may be taken by town jitneys to shelters - if it's not too dangerous to drive, said acting supervisor Kathleen Walsh.

Since superstorm Sandy, several people who put a power generator in ther homes instead of outside have succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning, police said.

"With the electric out, the carbon monoxide protectors are out," Walsh said. "Now with the snow, the last thing you want to see is people bringing a barbecue in the house. I would like to think that no one would do that, but when you're that tired and distraught, sometimes people don't think clearly."

The Town of Babylon urged residents in flood-prone areas south of Montauk to find other shelter, but did not mandate an evacuation. The City of Long Beach, which was under an evacuation order from Sandy, told residents who had returned that an evacuation was mandatory.

The Town of North Hempstead has not issued a mandatory evacuation order but recommends residents take shelter at a new location in New Hyde Park -- the New Hyde Park Memorial High School on Leonard Boulevard.

The nor'easter also is challenging the "long road to restoration" for Long Islanders but utility workers were still out there trying to return electricity to thousands still without it, LIPA chief operating officer Michael Hervey said.

"They're working in the wind and the weather and the snow to put on the power as soon as they can," Hervey said at a news conference.

Earlier in the day, power outages increased -- by the tens of thousands -- as wind, rain light snow from an incoming nor'easter began to hit Long Island Wednesday morning.

"Right now, the system is in a little bit of a fragile state," LIPA spokesman Mark Gross said. He said the number of outages was expected to "fluctuate up and down" during the day.

There was renewed fear of flooding at high tide along South Shore communities early Wednesday afternoon and flooding along the North Shore a couple of hours later at the high-tide mark there.

Some streets in south Freeport that flooded during Sandy -- including Adams Street and Suffolk Street -- flooded again during the nor'easter.

Freeport's Nautical Mile is beloved by many for its restaurants and bars, but Wednesday afternoon the storm-ravaged area only had few working businesses -- including a high-tech firm that was scurrying to salvage equipment.

In Lindenhurst, another hard-hit community, the water in the canal behind Thomas Maguire's house was higher than normal in midafternoon.

"I feel like I'm being beaten up," said Maguire, 56, a truck driver whose South Seventh Street home was flooded during Sandy.

Maguire said he would not leave the house Wednesday afternoon. A storm surge high enough to flood the house was unlikely, he said. Besides, he had an appointment with an assessor from FEMA, due to come by to survey the bowed deck out back, and the floors and sodden walls inside.

The nor'easter was hitting a region already weakened by Sandy -- beaches depleted of sand, homes damaged or destroyed, an electric grid with recent patchwork fixes, truncated mass bus and train service, long lines at gas stations, emergency workers on extended shifts and Long Islanders in their second week of coping.

Officials at all levels of government prepared for the full impact of the nor'easter. Jones Beach and all other state parks were closed both Wednesday and Thursday, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg closed all public parks in New York City.

Bloomberg said all construction has been halted in the city, and motorists should stay off the roads after 5 p.m.

The adverse weather also affected some Long Island schools.

A blown transformer caused Half Hollow Hills High School East to lose power, the school reported, and students were dismissed early Wednesday. The school said all students were taken home by school bus.

Also Wednesday, major airlines scrapped flights into and out of the metropolitan area, The Associated Press reported, adding that United would suspend most New York City service starting at noon. The National Weather Service issued a high-wind warning for expected "damaging winds," effective from 1 p.m. Wednesday to 4 a.m. Thursday. Such a warning means "a hazardous high wind event is expected," in this case with 25- to 35-mph winds and gusts as high as 65 mph. But gusts along the coast may peak at 70 mph, the weather service said.

Such winds are capable of bringing down trees and power lines, and creating minor property damage, officials said.

The weather service also issued a coastal flood warning for the South Shore, Long Island Sound and Peconic and Gardiners bays on the East End from late morning Wednesday through 7 a.m. Thursday.

A storm surge also could cause "moderate or major" coastal flooding in Nassau and Suffolk where shorelines have been breached and damaged by Sandy.

Surges are expected to be 2 feet to 4 feet, with 3 to 4 feet likely in western Long Island Sound and South Shore bays.

Atlantic beaches are under a high-surf advisory until 6 a.m. Thursday, which means pounding waves of 8 feet to 12 feet could "create overwash and significant beach erosion," according to the service.

Officials worry especially about the barrier islands, including Fire Island, which normally protect the mainland coasts from wind and tide.

But they've been breached by Sandy, and forecasters fear that nor'easter storm surges could wash away more of the protective beaches.

With Patrick Whittle, Aisha al-Muslim, Nicholas Spangler, Alfonso Castillo, Robert Brodsky, Scott Eidler, Patricia Kitchen, Denise M. Bonilla, Alfonso A. Castillo and John Valenti

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