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Long Island digs out from blizzard

The eastbound entrance ramp at Exit 17 on

The eastbound entrance ramp at Exit 17 on the Southern state Parkway was not plowed and impassable at 11 a.m. Monday. (Dec. 27, 2010) Credit: Newsday / Jeff Schamberry

Blizzard conditions have largely left Long Island, the National Weather Service said Monday afternoon, leaving behind up about 20 inches of snow, still-snarled highways, a paralyzed mass transit system and shutdown airports. And a picture began to emerge of beach erosion and damage to waterfront homes.

By noon, the region was beginning to pick itself up and brush itself off.

The weather service replaced its blizzard warning with a winter weather advisory about strong winds and blowing snow drifts. The oppressive conditions that lasted throughout Sunday night and into Monday morning appeared to be lifting, with sunshine pouring through the clouds. Authorities said they had cleared Long Island's major thoroughfares.

"It looks like some roads are starting to clear up," said Matt Scalora, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Upton. "The visibility is starting to improve."

But problems persisted after a blizzard that authorities said was stronger than expected. Winds continued to gust up to 39 mph in Islip, the weather service said.

Before resuming LIRR service Monday afternoon, dozens of riders spent the night at the Hicksville LIRR station, and hundreds more were stranded on train cars at Jamaica and in the terminal at Penn Station.

Ammatu Muftahu, 28, of the Bronx was trying to catch a train in Hicksville back to Manhattan to go home after finishing her job as a home health aide in Jericho. She got to the station at 8 p.m.; the trains weren't running. She hadn't found a way home by 10 a.m. Monday.

"It's been cold in here," Muftahu said. "I haven't been able to sleep. They said we would be here for one hour and we've been here forever. We don't know when service is going to resume."

Shortly before noon, she said, her employer told her to take a cab to Jamaica, at his expense.

At Penn Station, Frank and Helen Callaghan, both 80, of Levittown were stuck on an idle train for more than 12 hours. "It's very hard, because he's a diabetic and should be getting his medicine," Helen Callaghan said. "I thought what we experienced was worse than my mother and father's death. We were upset."

The heaviest snow fell in Nassau County, with 20.5 inches in Bethpage and 18.1 in Carle Place, according to an early morning update by the National Weather Service in Upton. In Suffolk County, North Babylon had 18.5 inches and Upton had 17.6 inches.

The Long Island Sound shoreline in Southold suffered major damage from high winds combined with a surprisingly high tide about 4 a.m. The parking lot at Southold Town Beach was ripped up, authorities said. Town officials closed part of Soundview Avenue near the beach because of flooding. Homes near the beach lost steps and parts of porches as the waves carved into the bluff.

Residents reported, but authorities had not yet confirmed, two homes destroyed by high surf in the East Marion-Orient area of the North Fork and houses undermined in Montauk. State Parks officials said there was erosion damage at Orient Beach State Park but the extent had not been determined yet.

Combined with winds gusting to 58 mph, the snow caused whiteout road conditions, and many motorists just gave up. Hundreds of motorists abandoned their vehicles on area roads, leaving it to police to tow them out of the way of street cleaning crews. In Suffolk, the sheriff's office was impounding the vehicles.

The abandoned autos complicated efforts to clear roads, officials said. The State Department of Transportation said it was employing payloaders Monday to scoop snow from around the vehicles blocking highway on and off ramps, some of which remained buried in drifts.

State traffic cameras showed the major highways were fairly clear, with vehicles moving well, although state officials said drifting snow remained a problem.

Police said the storm could be blamed for more than 200 collisions, none causing life-threatening injuries. "Most of the accidents appear to be spinouts or people getting stuck," said Sgt. John Rung of the Suffolk sheriff's office.

But by 1 p.m., police were no longer warning motorists to stay off the roads, admonishing them instead to use common sense. Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano urged residents to "use extreme caution" if they have to drive.

Early Monday, even the Metropolitan Transportation Authority asked commuters to avoid traveling, calling the storm's severity "unprecedented." New York City Transit told The Associated Press that riders were stuck for several hours on two A train cars caught in snow drifts.

There are areas of suspension on the 2, 5, A, F, J, Q, N and Staten Island Rail Road. Monday morning, a message on the MTA website warned those seeking information that the agency was experiencing delays in loading information because of extremely heavy volume.

With tens of thousands of weary travelers stranded in their terminals, New York City's three airports said they would remain closed indefinitely on Monday. Long Island MacArthur Airport was closed until 7 p.m., spokeswoman Catherine Green said.

"It's been a major impact on people traveling in the Northeast," said FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac. "It's going to take some time for the airlines to get back on their schedules."

Republic Airport in Farmingdale announced flights were departing, including a charter carrying the Montreal Canadiens back north after a 4-1 loss to the Islanders Sunday night.

The Town of Huntington declared a snow emergency, allowing the government to close roads and use town equipment on private land. Neither Nassau nor Suffolk had declared a snow emergency but Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy told News 12 Long Island the storm created "an emergency type situation." He urged residents to stay home and move their cars off side streets so the roads could be plowed.

The Long Island Power Authority reported 8,412 outages as of 10:03 a.m., with 6,212 in Suffolk. In Nassau, the hardest-hit area appeared to be the Town of Hempstead, with more than 1,000 outages.

High winds gusting up to 50 mph were hindering efforts to repair downed power lines, a LIPA spokeswoman said. LIPA officials urged customers to call 800-490-0075 if their power goes out.

On the LIRR, the main problem was snow drifts Monday, a spokesman said. Crews worked overnight and into the morning trying to clear tracks. In many cases, the blowing winds and continual snow foiled those attempts.

"Right now, we have no estimate of when service will resume," spokesman Sam Zambuto said. "We're continuing to work at clearing the third rail and switches."

The railroad suspended service late Sunday night. When service does resume, Zambuto said it will operate on a holiday schedule.

Among those stranded on Long Island were more than two dozen people who spent the night in the Hicksville LIRR waiting room, said Sam Kille, director of public relations for the Nassau chapter of the American Red Cross. Kille said he arrived at the station early Monday morning with food, water and blankets for the people, who had been on their way to the city when train service stopped last night.

"There were a lot of angry faces," said Kille, who added that the people spent the night trying to sleep sitting up in chairs. Many of them were bored - Kille said one man even asked him for a shovel so he could shovel the sidewalks outside the train station, just for something to do.

A few of the stranded passengers left the station in a rush. "They just jumped on a bus, they didn't care where it went," Kille said.

All Suffolk County bus lines except the S92 and 8A were halted until 10 a.m. and they are experiencing severe delays.

Levy said it would take some time for the area to return to normal, especially the roads.

"It's going to be quite a challenge for our workers to clear these roads and keep them clear because of the wind," Levy said Sunday during a visit to the county emergency operations center in Yaphank.

He said Suffolk had 375 pieces of equipment out clearing its 1,200 lane-miles of highway and expected to be using about 6,000 tons of salt.

"The biggest concern is the heavy winds, from 35 to 50 miles an hour, that will be pushing the snow that has been plowed back onto the roads," Levy said. "So it's going to be a miserable morning commute. By afternoon, everything should be back to normal and people will be able to shop for what they need, so there's no need for people to drive in the middle of the storm."

Levy said volunteers would be calling the elderly and sick to make sure they were not in danger during the storm. He added that "our police department has been instructed that if they see any homeless individuals to go up to them in order to bring them to a shelter."

Levy also said that through the Red Cross an emergency shelter opened at about 3 a.m. Monday at the Sachem School District's Seneca Middle School, 850 Main St., Holbrook.

Glenn, a pastor from Bellport who didn't want his last name printed, said he was headed to the shelter with his mother, Audrey, 88, after a night spent without heat. "I put her in bed with blankets, she can't stay in bed all day," Glenn said. "We had the blankets over our heads."

Across Long Island the blizzard took its toll as the night wore on.

Earlier Sunday, Mangano said that by 4 p.m., when the county opened its emergency management center in Bethpage, public works employees had salted and sanded 2,000 miles of road lanes before beginning to plow. "The wind and visibility issues really complicate our job with respect to clearing roadways," he said.

Mangano established a hotline for residents to report nonemergency storm problems: 888-684-4274. He said the hotline should be used to report problems like downed trees or plowing issues.

Emergencies should still be reported to 911.

Any Nassau resident in need of shelter should call the 866-WARM-BED county hotline. Mangano said if there were large-scale power outages, the county would open some of its 100 shelters in conjunction with the Red Cross. - With Mark Harrington, Mitchell Freedman, Matthew Chayes, Bill Bleyer, Gary Dymski and Ted Phillips

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