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Drivers Warned Of 'Dangerous Whiteout Conditions' On Long Island

RONKONKOMA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Both Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island were under a blizzard warning Thursday.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for Long Island, where some areas saw more than a foot of snow.

"Snow is one thing. We can handle snow. It's snow plus the wind which is going to cause the trouble today," he said. "The situation is going to get worse as the day goes on." 

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone called it "a difficult, challenging, dangerous storm."

"We're looking at up to 15 inches in some places in Suffolk County combines with a rapid rate of snowfall," he said. "The snow is coming down hard and quickly, and has been for a good time now, and high winds. You combine all three of those together and you create dangerous whiteout conditions."

Dozens of accidents and power outages were reported across the area.

"We have to consider the safety of our employees, as well. So when they do have high winds, we just ask our customers to have some patience that if there is an outage, know that we will get to it just as safely and as fast as we can," said Jeff Weir, of PSEG Long Island.

"The TVs went out, the phones went out, the credit card machine went out. We don't know what the problem was," one restaurant worker said. 

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said the county "is in full storm response mode."

"Currently, forecast in Nassau County is five to eight inches but the big concern is the wind," she said.

Commuters and travelers from Long Island faced delays, service suspensions, detours and dangerous roads as snow totals ramped up.

A county bus had to be emptied of passengers and towed away after it slid into an icy pole. A Long Island Rail Road train stalled while bringing home weary commuters.

"I was just on the train for two and a half hours. We were stuck on a train that needed to push another train out of the way. So that was the big problem," one man said. "I just want to go home right now."

Ten-foot-tall mounds of snow were removed from NYU Winthrop Hopsital's parking lot, so ambulances could make way. 

With each passing hour, the storm got worse as the wind blew the snow around, creating dangerous whiteout conditions. Traffic on the Long Island Expressway slowed to a crawl, as spinouts left several motorists stranded.

"We've had frightening situations on the Long Island Expressway. We've had people stranded on the LIE overnight and it has literally become a significant issue of public safety," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. "It's become an issue of life and death. When you have people stranded on the LIE that situation is very serious."

"If you don't have to be out you shouldn't be out," he added. 

Despite the warnings to remain off the roads, many drivers were still out.

"It's whiteout but you never get to drive in this kind of weather, so I would say I'm enjoying it," Sid, who was making his way to work, told 1010 WINS' Carol D'Auria. 

"The wind is really, you don't always see the wind," plow driver Jeremy Gage told WCBS 880's Marla Diamond. "The wind is what really is going to set this storm apart from everything else."

Suffolk County Police Chief Stuart Cameron told WCBS 880's Sophia Hall he helped a number of drivers who became stuck, including many in sports cars. 

"Probably not your best car to take out in a snowstorm," he said, adding it's extremely dangerous for officers to stop and help stranded motorists. "In fact, I think more officers get hurt in traffic incidents than actually get shot. When our officers come up on people that get stuck, they have no choice but to exit their cars. Now, they're out on their foot, and a car could come along and hit them. So they face a lot of dangers, and they did a really nice job."

Many commuters took early trains Thursday in Ronkonkoma in hopes of beating the snow.

"I'm a nurse practitioner," one woman told CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff. "I have to be on the roads but be smart, take the train if you can."

In Garden City, some people braved the elements for a hot meal.

"I went to Bagelman and got a wonderful breakfast of pancakes and bacon," one man told CBS2's Jennifer McLogan.

"Just went to the supermarket, because a day like this you have to have chili," another said.

One driver was on his way to work at the post office.

"I keep layered up here. There's a lot of wind going on right now," said one man.

"Just got to tuck in the sweatpants into the socks, and I'll be good," another said, adding that his mother told him boots would have been a better choice.

"We're coming out for a closing on a house and we would be delighted to go directly there. Unfortunately, we can't get the title person there," a woman added.

One man even brought McLogan a rose and daisy.

"We just moved from the Mojave Desert," one family said. "For our kids, this is their first snow."

Residents were warned to keep their bodies warm.

"I have my suit pants underneath my sweatpants. I have one pair of socks on, but these are really nice boots," one man said.

Cuomo said there were no plans to close the roads or the rails, but the Long Island Rail Road was experiencing some weather-related suspensions Thursday afternoon.

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