FARMINGVILLE, N.Y. – Stranded for hours on a snow-covered road, Priscilla Arena prayed, took out a sheet of loose-leaf paper and wrote what she thought might be her last words to her husband and children.
She told her 9 ½-year-old daughter, Sophia, she was “picture-perfect beautiful.” And she advised her 5 ½-year-old son, John: “Remember all the things that mommy taught you. Never say you hate someone you love. Take pride in the things you do, especially your family. … Don’t get angry at the small things; it’s a waste of precious time and energy. Realize that all people are different, but most people are good. “
“My love will never die – remember, always,” she added.
Arena, who was rescued in an Army canvas truck after about 12 hours, was one of hundreds of drivers who spent a fearful, chilly night stuck on highways in a massive snowstorm that plastered New York’s Long Island with more than 30 inches of snow, its ferocity taking many by surprise despite warnings to stay off the roads.
Even snowplows were mired in the snow or blocked by stuck cars, so emergency workers had to resort to snowmobiles to try to reach motorists. With many still stranded hours after the snow stopped, Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged other communities to send plows to help dig out in eastern Long Island, which took the state’s hardest hit by far in the massive Northeast storm.
About 200 people were stranded in cars Friday night in Suffolk County, which covers the eastern part of Long Island, and officials were asked why they didn’t shut down highways in advance of the storm.
“The storm hit at a time when commuters were making their way back from the city, inching along” on the Long Island Expressway, said Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone. “The snow just swallowed them up. It came down so hard and so fast.”
And closing highways is “not an easy call,” Cuomo said, noting that people wanted to get home and that officials had warned them to take precautions because the worst of the snow could start by the evening rush hour. Flashing highway signs underscored the message ahead of time: “Heavy Snow Expected. Avoid PM Travel!”
“People need to act responsibly in these situations,” Cuomo said.
But many workers didn’t have the option of leaving early Friday, Arena noted. The 41-year-old left her job as a sales account manager at an optical supply business in Ronkonkoma around 4 p.m., driving her crossover SUV. She soon found herself stuck in Farmingville.
“Even though we would dig ourselves out and push forward, the snow kept piling, and therefore we all got stuck, all of us,” she recalled later at the Brookhaven Town Hall, also in Farmingville, where several dozen stranded motorists were taken after being rescued. Many others opted to stay with their cars.
Late-shifters including Wayne Jingo had little choice but to risk it if they wanted to get home. By early afternoon, he’d been stuck in his pickup truck alongside the Long Island Expressway for nearly 12 hours.
He’d left his job around midnight as a postal worker at Kennedy Airport and headed home to Medford, about 50 miles east. He was at Exit 60 in Ronkonkoma – almost home – about 1:45 a.m. when another driver came barreling at him westbound, the wrong way, he said. Jingo swerved to avoid the oncoming car, missed the exit and ended up stuck on the highway’s grass shoulder.
He rocked the truck back and forth to try to free it, but it only sank down deeper into the snow and shredded one of his tires. He called 911. A police officer came by at 9:30 a.m. and said he would send a tow truck.
At 1 p.m. Saturday, Jingo was still waiting.
“I would have been fine if I didn’t have to swerve,” he said.
On the expressway near Patchogue, dozens of cars, four-wheel-drive vehicles and even 18-wheelers were stranded along the snowy road. Some remained in their cars late Saturday morning, peeking out from time to time and running their cars intermittently to warm up as they waited for help.
In Middle Island, a Walmart remained unofficially open long past midnight to accommodate more than two dozen people who were stranded on nearby roads.
“We’re here to mind the store, but we can’t let people freeze out there,” manager Jerry Greek told Newsday.
Utility trucks, meanwhile, struggled to get around to restore power. About 10,000 homes and businesses, most in the eastern half of Long Island, did not have electricity Saturday morning, said Wendy Ladd of the National Grid.
“We have plenty of crews available to do the restoration work, and if we can get to them, we’re saying we can get them back in 24 hours,” Ladd said. “But the issue is whether our big trucks can get to them if streets aren’t plowed.”