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First heavy snow blankets LI, now a deep freeze

The first major storm of 2014 dumped more than a foot of snow in parts of Long Island, then locked the region in a deep freeze that prompted officials to issue health warnings.

Temperatures plunged to single digits Friday and were expected to remain well below freezing until midday Sunday, the National Weather Service said.

The snowstorm wasn't as bad as feared.

Despite the Island being covered in a thick coat of powder, power outages were minimal, and roads -- other than a precautionary overnight closure of the Long Island Expressway -- were kept open thanks to a massive fleet of plows.

Three weather-related fatalities were reported statewide, including a highway crash in Suffolk County. Nassau and Suffolk police responded to hundreds of accidents and rescue calls Thursday night and early Friday, most of them deemed minor.

Many local schools and offices were shuttered Friday, and fears of icy roads prompted many commuters to stay home.

The storm didn't make it to official blizzard status -- which would have required sustained winds of 35 mph. Temperatures, which were to fall to 4 degrees overnight in Islip, were forecast to reach the 20s Saturday afternoon and the 40s Sunday.

People were urged to limit their exposure to the extreme cold -- particularly the elderly and very young, and those with chronic conditions, including heart disease, heart failure and diabetes.

After declaring a countywide emergency Thursday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone was grateful for clear skies yesterday afternoon.

"We caught a little bit of a break," he said, noting also that lots of people heeded warnings and stayed off the roads.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said the county "performed excellently" in responding to the storm. He spent much of the night at the Office of Emergency Management in Bethpage before crisscrossing the county to personally check on snow-removal efforts.

"I was thrilled to see neighbors helping neighbors shovel out, and kids helping seniors," he said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo praised the use of brine on many key roadways, including the LIE. The saltwater mixture acts faster and better than the more traditional spraying of salt and sand.

He said the decision to close some highways, including the LIE, worked.

"I think the facts show it was the right decision," Cuomo said.

The storm hit Long Island hard, with snow totals ranging from 7 inches to more than a foot. Eastport had the most in Suffolk -- 13.5 inches -- while Oceanside reported a Nassau high of 12.4 inches.

Suffolk police reported 2,572 service calls, including 335 accidents, between 12:01 a.m. Thursday and 2 p.m. Friday. Nassau police had 500 calls for service, including 45 accidents, from 7 p.m. Thursday to 9 a.m. Friday.

Joseph Williams, commissioner of Suffolk's Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency, praised the state's midnight closure of the LIE throughout Long Island.

"I think that was a good move," he said, adding that delaying the reopening time from 5 to 8 a.m. also helped. "That saved an awful lot of people from getting stuck."

PSEG Long Island, handling its first major storm, also performed well, according to Williams. At one point Thursday night, 800 customers were without power, but only a handful were still in the dark by morning, officials said.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter learned just how efficient the new power company was when he was out with his snowblower cleaning the driveway to his law office in Wading River yesterday morning.

That's when the first of three calls came in to his cellphone from utility officials, saying there were no service problems.

"They're really on it," he said.

But the storm proved deadly for some.

In upstate Byron, authorities said a 71-year-old woman with Alzheimer's disease walked out of her home Thursday and froze to death.

State Police said two people were killed in highway accidents: a Troy man on the Adirondack Northway and a woman on the Southern State Parkway in North Babylon. That victim was identified as Colette Epple, 25, of Smithtown.

All state roads were passable by yesterday afternoon, transportation officials said. Crews remained out in full force, with 300 pieces of snow-removal equipment deployed on Long Island, state Department of Transportation spokeswoman Eileen Peters said.

The storm was Judi Bosworth's first as North Hempstead Town supervisor.

On the job for just two days, she opened up several warming centers and ruled out declaring a snow emergency. "It wasn't necessary," she said. "It stopped snowing earlier than they predicted."

In Babylon Town, Supervisor Richard Schaffer reported minor erosion at Gilgo Beach, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was two-thirds done with shoring up the dunes.

"We took some hits, but it wasn't as bad as we thought because the storm moved through quickly overnight," he said.

During the storm, the ocean came within 20 feet of the newly rebuilt Long Beach boardwalk, but the shoreline there remained intact.

While roads were clear, many sidewalks weren't.

Noting the problem in his area, Thomas Wall, 56, of Copiague, said the town should begin telling residents and business owners that they must clear their sidewalks.

"They're putting people's lives in jeopardy," he said.

Schaffer said the town would put another reminder to residents to clear sidewalks on its website, but added, "We're mainly concerned with the streets right now."

In Lindenhurst, residents south of Montauk Highway complained of floodwaters that froze over, turning some neighborhood streets into ice-skating rinks.

Schaffer and Lindenhurst Mayor Thomas Brennan said last night that the tide had receded and crews would work until 9 or 10 p.m. to clear streets of ice and slush.

With Denise M. Bonilla, Robert Brodsky, Alfonso A. Castillo,

Scott Eidler, Mitchell Freedman, Bart Jones, James T. Madore, Bridget Murphy and Ellen Yan

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