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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Many LIers' daily lives upended by Sandy

A tree fell on a house on Harvard

A tree fell on a house on Harvard Street near New Hyde Park Road in Garden City. (Oct. 29, 2012) Credit: Newsday/ Audrey C. Tiernan

Rise with the sun.

Hunt. Then, where you can, gather. And when night falls, retire to the safety of shelter.

Notice, please, the word shelter. Because on this night, too many Long Islanders can't make their way home because of superstorm Sandy.

This is Long Island's new norm. And it is likely to get even more challenging before the region regains some semblance of its natural rhythm.

Sleep late? Not now, because sunlight has become a precious resource; without electricity, nights are dark and turning cold.

On Tuesday, motorists were out early, queuing up in lines half a mile long at gas stations on Old Country Road. By Wednesday, across Nassau and Suffolk, some lines grew longer as more and more stations ran out of gas.

A station owner on Route 110 in Huntington said he had a line when he opened at 7:30 a.m. And he expected to run out of gasoline long before 11 a.m.

"We'll get another delivery," he told worried customers. "Maybe even by tomorrow."

At restaurants -- and open ones were few and far between on Monday and Tuesday in Nassau and Suffolk -- savvy entrepreneurs cooked using energy provided by generators.

Some establishments offered severely slimmed-down menus. At one fast-food restaurant, a cashier worked without benefit of a computer. She hand-wrote orders and expertly collected cash and counted out the correct change.

At convenience stores, customers, many of whom used debit or credit cards because cash has become another precious commodity, were delighted to find delicacies such as -- gasp! -- hot coffee.

Along with company.

"I'm so happy to see and gossip with so many people and not all of them are my neighbors," said a woman who wanted to be identified only as Deborah. "It was nuts staring at four walls."

As of Wednesday, most schools remained closed. In one neighborhood near Wantagh, a father and his two sons maneuvered their bicycles carefully around debris remaining from two fallen, and pushed aside, trees.

"I'm being extremely careful," he told me. "My wife is afraid of more falling trees, but the boys are stir crazy and I promised her I'd get them back safe and tired."

At hardware stores, Long Islanders were hunting for supplies beyond flashlights and the elusive fresh supply of generators. At one Home Depot, customers were snapping up coolers, paper towels and plastic bags. "It's like we're settling in for the long run," one employee told me. "This mess is going to be a while."

Meanwhile, a legion of residents hunted for warm showers, hot food, temporary shelter and anywhere available to charge cellphones -- and even those were failing at times because of overcrowded networks.

Come the night, even sights and sounds seem different. In some spots, the stillness can be scary, although -- absent the glare of artificial light -- a comforting cascade of stars often shines through.

Still, even the most familiar territory can look foreign because stretches of businesses and street and traffic lights remain dark. Meanwhile, in some neighborhoods, a swarm of generators drowns out everything.

At her worst, superstorm Sandy brought death to Long Island. She's reconfigured our coastline, decimated communities, destroyed too many of our neighbors' homes, kept children from school, adults from jobs and erased yesterday's Halloween celebrations from our calendars.

But Long Islanders are a resilient lot. The new norm tests us, but we're too tough for Sandy -- or anything else -- to crush us.

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