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Libraries become go-to places for powerless

(Clockwise from left) Joseph Spellane, Alasifa Mushtaq, Corinne

(Clockwise from left) Joseph Spellane, Alasifa Mushtaq, Corinne Janczewski, and Carmen Caceres, all of Lindenhurst, take advantage of the free power at the Lindenhurst Memorial Library offered to those who have none at home in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. (Nov. 2, 2012) Credit: Craig Ruttle

Doug and Karen Mandart have no power and no heat. But twice a day since Thursday, the couple has come to Lindenhurst Memorial Library for light, warmth and the ability to email friends and family that they are OK.

"We were cold and tired and aggravated, so this was a nice break," said Doug Mandart, 52.

Libraries across Long Island have emerged as go-to places for the powerless.

Visitor traffic has increased dramatically as thousands search for new havens from Sandy -- seeking heat, Internet access, electrical outlets, books, movies, snacks and hot drinks. Many said they had not been to a library in years but now depend on them.

"There's a big influx of people really looking to get on the Internet and stay warm," said Islip Public Library director Mary Schubart, adding that visitor traffic has tripled. "We can tell they're cold because they're not taking off their coats when they come in."

Some libraries reopened on Wednesday, and the bulk on Thursday. In Nassau, 34 of 54 were open Friday. In Suffolk, more than 40 out of 54 were open.

"We're glad we're there for people," Nassau Library System director Jackie Thresher said. ". . . in bad times people come back to us."

Several libraries set time limits for charging up or using library computers. Others are considering extending hours.

"It's all about power," said Barbara Schoenenberger, of Hempstead, who was at the Garden City Public Library with her son Lionel Gilliar, 11, to charge their laptop and iPod Touch.

More than 1,300 people -- double the usual number -- went to Garden City for such amenities as the extra power strips, said library director Carolyn Voegler.

"The whole library has become a charging station," said Celeste Watman, director of the Levittown Public Library, where demand has quadrupled. Visitors enjoy hot coffee and cocoa while watching local news and movies in the community room.

Plainview-Old Bethpage Public Library director Gretchen Browne said the facility's usual 1,400 daily visitors have quintupled -- a crowd that included two seniors looking to charge their nebulizers, she said.

"As long as I don't have power," said John Mohr, 23, of Plainview, watching a movie on his laptop plugged into his own power strip, "I am coming to live here."

Huntington Library hosted 2,000 people Thursday when its previous high was 900 for a children's carnival. Every table was full Friday, with some people sitting on the floor.

"There were more people in this building than any day in our history," director Michael Bogin said.

Mastic-Moriches Shirley Community Library director Kerri Rosalia said the library had about 1,500 to 2,000 visitors when it reopened Wednesday.

Lindenhurst Memorial Library director Peter Ward said a flat-screen TV usually used for videoconferencing is instead playing the news for those who have been unable to see it for days.

"We're so happy we can fill this need," said Ward, adding much of his staff lives south of Montauk Highway and experienced damage and flooding in their homes. "The staff has really stepped up. Even though their own situation is devastating, they are here to help their neighbors."

More than places with power and the Internet, libraries have become spots where patrons can find a community.

"They want to tell their stories," Rosalia said. "We go home with heavy hearts."

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