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LIers try to cope with post-Irene pain

A tree fell on a Garden City house

A tree fell on a Garden City house during Tropical Storm Irene. (Aug. 28, 2011) Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Hundreds of thousands of Long Islanders struggled to cope with the lingering disruptions and headaches from Irene Monday.

The day after the tropical storm howled over the region, power was still out for a third of Long Island Power Authority customers. Chain saws buzzed under clear skies, reducing toppled trees to kindling. Homeowners trudged through sodden backyards, hosing away mud and pumping flood water from basements.

As officials took stock of the damage, the air of emergency eased. About 800 National Guard troops that had been sent to Long Island returned upstate to help disaster crews in the flood-devastated Catskills. People evacuated from vulnerable barrier islands and low-lying shore neighborhoods returned to their homes and Suffolk closed all county shelters.

People resumed their normal routines where they could. Some town beaches reopened Monday and most South Shore public beaches were expected to be ready for the Labor Day weekend.

But the power outages persisted throughout the Island. Electric generators kept flying off store shelves. Deli owners served coffee by candlelight.

"I'm losing a lot of business," said Saad Aziz, owner of the Track gas station and convenience store in Mastic Beach Village, the Long Island community that officials said appeared to have taken the biggest punch from the storm. In his dark shop, Aziz said he had to toss out milk and ice cream, and hadn't sold any gas since Sunday because the pumps had no electricity. He got power back in the afternoon.

But LIPA officials said it could take at least five days to restore electricity to some customers. Still others are likely to remain in the dark into the weekend. As of 10 p.m. Monday, 325,000 customers remained without power on Long Island.

The Long Island Rail Road limped back to life with trains running on only seven of its 11 lines by afternoon. Commuters endured widespread delays. LIRR officials said the biggest obstacle to full recovery may be getting electricity to more than 120 grade crossings whose gates have no power.

As teams continued removing hundreds of downed trees from tracks and roads, police in Nassau and Suffolk counties directed traffic at 74 of the busiest intersections without working signals. "An awful number of traffic lights are out," said Joseph Williams, Suffolk's chief of fire, rescue and emergency services.

At least 100 signals had no power in Nassau and another 100 were out in Brookhaven Town, officials said. Suffolk's public works department is considering putting in temporary stop signs to fill the gap.

While Irene did not live up to the worst predictions, it did set some records.

Storm surge at Freeport, Point Lookout, Lindenhurst and Glen Cove broke records set in 2007 and 2010 storms, with water rising as much as 1.7 feet higher, according to preliminary data by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The storm smashed up marinas in Davis Park, Patchogue and Merrick and left some homes in low-lying coastal communities such as Mastic Beach virtually uninhabitable.

Bulkheading at Sandspit Marina in Patchogue caved in and will take time and money to repair, said Brookhaven Parks Commissioner Ed Morris.

"It took a beating," said Morris, who added that most other town parks and recreation facilities were in decent shape.

Residents and workers from resorts along Dune Road in the Hamptons found little to no damage, aside from the financial impact of shuttering businesses during the storm.

JoAnn Clark, property manager The Dune Deck Hotel & Resort, said the hotel lost $60,000 and some sand from the dunes in front of the beach-facing bar.

"We'll pull through, but to lose a whole weekend in August is a massive blow," Clark said. "We're a seasonal business. We only have two more weekends."

FEMA spokesman Don Caetano said agency representatives were flying over Long Island to get an overview of damage and collecting reports from state, county and local governments.

"The storm was certainly powerful, but here in Long Beach we accept these things as a fact of life, living on a barrier island," said city council president Tom Sofield, who still had 2 feet of water in his basement.

With Mark Harrington, Alfonso A. Castillo, Keith Herbert, Matthew Chayes, Tania Lopez, Patrick Whittle, Deborah S. Morris, Sandra Peddie, Martin C. Evans and Carl MacGowan

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