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Long Islanders cope with blizzard aftermath

Bethpage State Park At Old Bethpage Village Restoration,

Bethpage State Park
At Old Bethpage Village Restoration, Nassau County has established a new dog run near the entrance.
Credit: Newsday File / David Pokress / (Dec. 21, 2009)

The Blizzard of 2009 may be history, but it'll surely stick with us for a while, like those roadside ridges of snow left behind by the plows.

Snow-removal budgets are feeling the strain. Airports remain discombobulated. And here's to hearty East Patchogue, where - unofficially - 28.5 inches of snow was reported, tops on the Island. Attention also must be paid to Richard Hendrickson, 97, who has documented the weather in Bridgehampton since 1930.

>> PHOTOS: Record-breaking snow pounds LI

>> VIDEO: Passengers trapped on LIRR train during blizzard


Hands full with part-time gig

While the blizzard of '09 was a bust for Robbie Rizzi the restaurateur, it was a boon for Robbie Rizzi the snowplow operator.

Rizzi, 37, works in East Patchogue, one of the hardest-hit areas by the blizzard. As co-owner and executive chef of the Pine Grove Inn, he was preparing for an extraordinary pre-Christmas weekend. He had 200 reservations on Saturday night alone.

"Then that storm came in - like a mad woman with a broomstick smashing snow all around," Rizzi said Monday.

One after another, diners canceled. He shut Pine Grove for the weekend, then spent almost every minute in his GMC truck with a plow attached.

He roared along Route 112 and Railroad Avenue, amid the heart of East Patchogues' helter-skelter strip malls, clearing the parking lots of medical buildings, apartment complexes and government centers.

He estimated that closing the restaurant on the peak weekend cost him $20,000. Yet plowing nonstop earned him $10,000. He said he has slept six hours in three days.



Beaches take a hit

The weekend storm caused some beach erosion along the South Shore. State parks spokesman George Gorman Jr. said 10 feet of dunes on the east side of Field 5 at Robert Moses State Park was carved away by the high surf.



Racking up cleanup costs

As a parting gift, the blizzard socked Long Island towns with hefty clean up costs, which continued to rise Monday as crews mopped up.

Some governments said they'll easily pay the tab. Others, in the final days of a fiscal year ending Dec. 31, will scour budgets for unspent cash or even tap reserves.

Take Hempstead. The town had spent almost all its $1.7 million set aside for snow removal in 2009 before the blizzard struck. Officials don't have a total clean up cost yet, but put the bill for salt alone at $345,000.

"We thought we were certainly within our budget," said town spokesman Mike Deery. "Mother Nature had other plans."

Acting Islip public works Commissioner Richard Baker put his clean up cost at $1 million, a figure he said was well below what remains in the town's snow removal budget for this year.

Some towns, still digging out, have yet to grapple with cost.

"I have no idea," said Riverhead's highways Superintendent George Woodson, who claimed 4 hours sleep since the storm hit. "My brain can't even think about numbers right now. I'm beat."



At 97, a weather historian

Richard Hendrickson of Bridgehampton has been taking weather readings in his community for the federal government since 1930.

"I've been living with weather all my life. I'm 97 years old," he said.

Hendrickson points out that while the weekend storm was the heaviest snowfall in a 24-hour period, it did not match the blizzard of 1888. That year, a three-day snowstorm left three to four feet of snow on the flat ground.

For the record, Hendrickson measured the snowfall in Bridgehampton at 24 inches. "I live right next to an old farm and a 45 acre lot," he said. "I measure in 15 or 20 places. You have to take an average."



Travel plans disrupted

After more than 24 hours at Long Island MacArthur Airport, a bleary-eyed Andres Valdivia paced the Southwest Airlines terminal Monday morning, bracing for another long day and night of waiting.

Valdivia's flight to Ft. Lauderdale was canceled Sunday morning because of the snow. He couldn't get another one until Tuesday. Because he lives in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, he planned to spend Monday night at the airport.

"I'm desperate," said Valdivia, 43. "I'm bored and sleepy."

Post-blizzard travel ordeals were common Monday.

Claudine Milz, 42, and daughter Stefani, 8, of Fort Myers, Fla., were supposed to arrive Saturday via Baltimore to visit family in Islip. But the flight from Fort Myers to Baltimore was canceled. On Sunday, they arrived after being rerouted to Orlando, Baltimore, then LaGuardia Airport.

But their luggage didn't arrive with them, so Milz went to MacArthur Monday to retrieve the bags.

"We tried to make it an adventure," Milz said.

It was also an adventure traveling through Penn Station Monday. Cathy Desanto, 39, of Setauket, took a Long Island Rail Road train to the city Saturday to visit with her nephew and was stranded for two nights. "The information from the MTA was so confusing," she said.


>> PHOTOS: Latest on LI | East Coast buried | Classic LI snowstorms | Send your photos!
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>> ALERTS: School and organization closings | Breaking news
>> DIVERSIONS: Going out? Best sledding spots | Staying in? Top 9 of 2009 lists


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