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.
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 blizzard 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 plows were mired in the snow or blocked by stuck cars, so emergency workers had to resort to snowmobiles to try to reach motorists. Four-wheel-drive vehicles, tractor-trailers and a couple of ambulances could be seen stranded along the roadway and ramps of the Long Island Expressway. Stuck drivers peeked out from time to time, running their cars intermittently to warm up as they waited for help.
In Connecticut, where the storm dumped more than 3 feet of snow in some places, the National Guard rescued about 90 stranded motorists, taking a few to hospitals with hypothermia.
Andrew Cuomo and other officials were similarly asked why they didn’t act to shut down major highways in Long Island 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 snow just swallowed them up. It came down so hard and so fast,” explained Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone.
“That’s not an easy call,” added Cuomo, who noted 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 taking off early Friday, Arena noted.