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Long Island cleanup begins; 400,000 without power

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PATCHOGUE, N.Y. — "What a difference a day makes!" Nancy Boerjes said with enthusiasm as she stood looking at the concrete surface of Maiden Lane in Patchogue on Monday.

She paused under a blue sky, a bright sunshine and light winds to take in the good feelings and then went on.

"Yesterday it was under water. Four kids came down in kayaks. It was kind of neat until I realized it's where I live," she said. "It's the price you pay for living on the water."

The street in the Suffolk County village was filled with 3 to 4 feet of water Sunday when the Great South Bay left its banks in a storm so menacing that it was impossible for a time to see if Fire Island across the bay was still there.

It still was far from smooth sailing Monday in many parts of Long Island, the 118-mile land mass east of Manhattan. Nassau Community College had sheltered up to 1,800 people at the height of Tropical Storm Irene. Most have gone home, but many were left coping with flooded basements and downed trees. Visitor-dependent businesses that took a big financial hit are now pinning their hopes on the Labor Day holiday.

The Long Island Power Authority said 400,000 customers were still without electricity. It expects to restore power to 90 percent of them by Friday, and the remainder by the weekend or early next week, said LIPA Chief Operating Officer Michael Hervey. He said power would first be restored to critical facilities, including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and colleges.

LIPA suspended billing and collection calls, and closed its customer centers so those employees could work on storm restoration.

Linda Worrell, who lives on the water in the Suffolk County village of Greenport, went to use the Internet connection at a Starbucks because she didn't have power at home. Worrell said she has water, a gas stove and a charcoal grill to get by until it comes back on.

"We're fine. We can survive," she said. "We just need to man up and take a cold shower."

Barbara Vogt, 66, of Gainesville, Ga., was visiting her daughter and 10-year-old granddaughter in nearby Southold when the storm struck. She said the loss of electricity in her daughter's home was starting to become a problem.

"If it doesn't get better soon, it's gonna be tough," she said. "Luckily we have well water. You wouldn't mind so much if they could tell you when it was coming on. Then you could plan accordingly."

There were stretches of road with no working street lights as Long Island's 3 million residents contended with the worst power outage in 26 years.

Nassau County said it still had about 100 traffic lights out at midday Monday. Most motorists proceeded with caution but there were still some close calls during games of dodge 'em at the more complex intersections. Police directed traffic; big yellow and white electricity repair trucks were a common sight.

Back on Patchogue's Maiden Lane, the scene attracted a steady stream of sightseers.

Boerjas said she and most of her neighbors ignored the mandatory evacuation order Saturday because she had no children and she and her husband wanted to protect their home, which sits between the water and the street. "I'm of the firm belief that if you're there, you can do something about it," she said.

Neighbor Ivan Silva said their short street looked "like we were on the ocean" on Sunday. "I thought it was gone."

He was home cleaning up Monday. The mall where he works as an optometrist was closed because of a power outage.

A gutter on his roof had fallen in Irene's high winds, and his windows needed to be sprayed off because they were covered with a salt-water film.

"I think the whole area smells fishy," he said.

Associated Press Writers Meghan Barr in Greenpoint, N.Y., and Kiley Armstrong and Ula Ilnytzky in New York City contributed to this report.