New Yorkers tell of night stranded on snowy roads | Hindustan Times
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New Yorkers tell of night stranded on snowy roads

Stranded for hours on a snow-covered road, Priscilla Arena prayed, took out a sheet of paper and wrote what she thought might be her last words to her husband and young children.

world Updated: Feb 10, 2013 13:47 IST

Stranded for hours on a snow-covered road, Priscilla Arena prayed, took out a sheet of paper and wrote what she thought might be her last words to her husband and young children.

She told her daughter, Sophia, she was "picture-perfect beautiful." And she advised her son, John: "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 truck after about 12 hours, was one of hundreds of drivers who spent a fearful, chilly night stuck on highways in a blizzard that plastered New York's Long Island with more than 30 inches (almost a meter) 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 eastern Long Island, which took the state's hardest hit by far in the massive US Northeast storm.

About 200 people were stranded in cars Friday night in Suffolk County, which covers the eastern part of Long Island. In Connecticut, the National Guard rescued about 90 stranded motorists, taking a few to hospitals with hypothermia.

Officials weren't aware of any deaths among the stranded drivers, Cuomo said. Suffolk County police officers were still checking stranded vehicles Saturday afternoon.

Cuomo and other officials were asked why they didn't act to shut down major highways in advance of the storm, especially given the sprawling area's reputation for gridlock. The expressway is often called "the world's longest parking lot."

"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."

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 around 4 p.m., driving her crossover SUV. She soon found herself stuck.

"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, where several dozen stranded motorists were taken after being rescued. Many others chose to stay with their cars.

Late-shift workers including Wayne Jingo had little choice but to risk it if they wanted to get home. By early afternoon Saturday, 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 (80 kilometers) east. He was almost home around 1.45am when another driver came barreling at him, he said. Jingo swerved, missed his 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 police. An officer came by at 9.30am and said he would send a tow truck.

At 1pm on 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.