The harrowing images from New York's slice of the massive snowstorm — people stranded overnight, cars abandoned on long stretches of drift-covered highways — were slowly erased Sunday on the far reaches of Long Island, where hundreds of snowplows and heavy equipment descended on a region battered by storm again and to try to help clear the way for Monday's commute.
Plow trucks slogged through the roadways of eastern Long Island on Sunday, making pass after pass on snow-, ice- and sometimes car-clogged roads. Only about 400 customers were still without power Sunday night, down from a peak of almost 50,000 customers. And that's close to fulfilling pledges made by utility executives that nobody would be in the dark more than a day — a far cry from Superstorm Sandy, when hundreds of thousands were without power for days.
Parts of eastern Long Island were slammed with 30 inches of snow from the storm. Hundreds of cars got stuck on area roads including the Long Island Expressway, a 27-mile stretch of which was closed Sunday for snow-removal work. It was slow going, and even by early afternoon, snow was still packed on some highways.
Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone said the goal was to have most major highways cleared down to asphalt by the end of Sunday.
More than a third of all the state's snow-removal equipment was sent to the area, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, including more than 400 plow trucks and more than 100 snowblowers, loaders and backhoes.
"The massive amount of snow left behind effectively shut down the entire region," he said.
The expressway was shut down Sunday morning and initially was expected to re-open at 5 p.m., but authorities pushed that to 9 p.m. for the stretch between exits 57 and 73. The snow-removal trucks had to deal with not only inches and inches of snow, but a layer of ice. They also had to maneuver around abandoned cars.
On Sunrise Highway, which runs parallel to the Long Island Expressway, Dennis Lawrence, of Bellport, N.Y., had already spent 90 minutes digging out the car he had abandoned and had at least another 30-60 minutes to go. He left it there Friday after getting stuck on his way home from his job in New York City.
"The car was all over the place, it just slid over and wouldn't move," the 54-year-old elevator mechanic said. "I finally decided today to come and get it."
In addition to the snow from the storm, his car had gotten buried from snow displaced by passing plow trucks. Meanwhile, the roadway surface was still covered in inches of snow, only occasional spots of blacktop visible.
All known abandoned vehicles were searched, and no one needing medical help was found, a police spokeswoman for Suffolk County said Sunday.
The glut of stalled cars led to questions over whether officials should have closed roads, as happened in other states.
"Of course, after any storm, we'll re-examine our procedures, but it's largely Monday-morning quarterbacking" to criticize roads not being closed sooner, Bellone said.
He said officials had to deal with unique circumstances, given the sheer amount of snow that fell and that it started falling sooner than expected.
"The reality is people wanted to get home," he said. "The storm happened at the worst time."
It wasn't just the roads that were impacted. Cleanup was under way on the area's commuter rails, the Long Island Rail Road and the Metro-North Railroad.
Service was restored on two of Metro-North's three lines, said Salvatore Arena, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the railroad. Service on the third line, which runs between New York City and New Haven, Conn., will run on a normal weekday schedule on Monday between Grand Central Terminal and Stamford. Between Stamford and New Haven, trains will operate at about half of the normal weekday rush hour service level.
On the LIRR, service was mostly restored, except on the eastern parts of Long Island. On Monday, LIRR will operate on a nearly-normal weekday service, with some cancellations planned.
"A lot of progress has been made," Arena said.
Bellone said Suffolk County's school districts would individually decide whether to open or close. Newsday reported Sunday afternoon that nine districts had decided to close on Monday.
The Long Island Power Authority reported outages on Long Island had dwindled to about 400 customers by Sunday night.
The rapid pace of restoration was a far cry from Superstorm Sandy in late October, but officials pointed out that the storms were different, as were the scale of the outages. Sandy left 1.1 million customers in the dark.
A spokeswoman for National Grid, which is handling the restoration work, said some things had been done differently to allow for as quick a restoration as possible, like getting workers from off of Long Island in place before the storm hit to be able to help out.
"That was a huge improvement in terms of restoration," Wendy Ladd said. She said 600 workers had been brought in from elsewhere to supplement the 400 workers on Long Island.
Matthew Cordaro, current chairman of the LIPA Oversight Committee for the Suffolk County Legislature, said there was no comparison between the weather events.
"Snow generally doesn't pose any significant threat to the system. So no, I'm not surprised at the outcome. I don't think they did exceptionally well for the nature of the storm — average at best," he said.
Associated Press writer Verena Dobnik in New York City contributed to this report.