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Enduring struggle for last without power

National Grid linemen work on replacing poles along

National Grid linemen work on replacing poles along Brookville Road in Brookville in the wake of superstorm Sandy. (Nov. 9, 2012) Credit: Craig Ruttle

Of the six people staying in Marko Vrban's house in St. James, it's his 78-year-old father-in-law, Srecko Olic, who needs power the most.

Olic suffered a massive stroke in 2006 that left him paralyzed. He relies on a breathing machine and a hospital bed run on electricity. He can't chew his food; it has to pass through a processor.

Now that energy is scarce -- his family has just a small generator -- they power his bed only when he has to be moved and are judicious about using the other machines he needs.

"It's not easy," said Jasmin Vrban, Olic's 36-year-old daughter. "You unplug one thing to plug another thing and then the generator goes out and you have to start all over again."

Residents in St. James, Brookville and Port Jefferson could be among the last to regain power on Long Island, LIPA officials said earlier this week.

And while many say the lack of electricity is merely an inconvenience -- they've been wearing their hats to bed, taking miles-long walks to keep warm and staying with friends when needed -- the Vrbans worry about what a long-term outage could mean for their family.

They've informed LIPA about Olic's condition by phone -- "They say they'll make a note of it," Jasmin Vrban said -- and have alerted utility workers in person.

Still, the power remains out. "How is a medical emergency not a priority?" she said.

Adding to their stress, their boiler failed Thursday night and if it can't be fixed, the family will have to leave their home. Asked where they will go, Vrban said only: "I don't know."

Gia Appell's house in Brookville is a hub for neighbors living without electricity -- a half-dozen come by each day to charge their cellphones, power their laptops, take a shower or get a break from the cold.

Appell, 53, a stay-at-home mom, has lived in the house with her family for 19 years. She said she's happy to help her friends, but is worried about her generator after 13 days of use.

"I think it's going to conk out on me at any moment," Appell said. "I have been trying to reach LIPA for the past couple of days, just for kicks. You just get a machine."

With red maples, white pines and kousa dogwoods down in her neighborhood, Sandy and this week's snowstorm have tested -- and in some cases, snapped -- the power lines in her area. LIPA officials say more than 100 utility poles have fallen in Brookville, Port Jefferson and St. James.

Still, Appell said, she's lucky. While many Long Islanders lost their homes and in some cases, their loved ones, hers is just a small inconvenience.

It's a sentiment shared by residents in all three communities.

Steve Marsh, 53, sat inside his chilly St. James home on Wednesday beside a borrowed generator that he did not yet know how to use. He's gotten offers from family and friends to stay with them but wants to remain at home.

"As the temperature goes down, my wife gets more tempted," he said. "But I don't mind snuggling under the covers."

In Port Jefferson, Karen Mann, 66, and her husband were without power for more than a week -- it came on and went out again -- before it was restored earlier this week.

During the outage, she had to leave her house to get warm and even when she returned, she was never without a coat.

"They have the nerve to say they're going to raise the rates," she said of LIPA. "Are you kidding?"

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