Badly damaged seaside homes along Long Island's south shore following… (Mark Lennihan / Associated…)
ISLIP, N.Y. -- The Long Island MacArthur Airport here sits on a wooded rise in the middle of Long Island halfway between the Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. It is a dry spot on the narrow island that was squeezed top and bottom by Hurricane Sandy's 20-foot waves on top of historic storm surges.
Ten thousand feet above the bone dry airport runway, Denice Sidorowicz, 62, looks out the window as a Southwest flight breaks below the blanket of gray clouds and curves over the northern beaches of the island. She sees a familiar spit of land that has been severed by the waters of the Sound.
"Wow," she says.
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Sidorowicz has been trying to get home from visiting her granddaughters in Buffalo, N.Y., since Sunday. She heard that the power is back on in her mobile home park in Babylon, N.Y., and her neighbor has patched a piece of the roof ripped off by winds. She feels lucky; another neighbor, she heard, was sitting in his easy chair when a tree feel on the trailer, narrowly missing him. He was taken to the hospital with minor injuries.
The electronics company in Islip where she works has no power, so she won't be reporting to work Thursday. She will have time to fix her roof and check in on her sister and mother. She doesn't know yet how they fared in the storm.
Out over the Sound, a cloud breaks open and sunlight reflects off the calm waters.
"The sun is always there somewhere," says Sidorowicz.
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After the wheels touch down, Sidorowicz breathes in deeply. "It feels good to be back home," she says.
Sidorowicz is among the first airline passengers to be able to say that, two days after Sandy roared through, leaving devastation in its wake.
Inside the airport in Islip, the power is on now. A trickle of flights have begun to land here, every seat full, carrying rescue workers, engineers, journalists and family members coming home after being separated by the storm. Arriving passengers in the baggage claim area huddle around outlets trying to juice up phones before heading out onto the island that has gone 85% dark.
Passengers who were aboard flights from Orlando, Fla., and Washington D.C. waited for their bags and shared what little they had heard about what awaits them. A father there to pick up his daughter says that the roads on the north side of the island are snarled because the stop lights are out and drivers won't give way. A young mother with her 3-month-old infant had two weeks of frozen breast milk in her carry on. One man, trying to get home to Elizabeth City, N.C., decided to redirect his Newark flight to Islip. He plans to rent a car and navigate the bridges across the Hudson River back home.
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For Jamie Strasheim, the lights may be out when she gets home from the airport, but the 27-year-old nurse just may be able to find her way by the light reflecting off her diamond engagement ring.
She and her fiance James LeBlanc, 27, flew back to Long Island from an 11-day vacation at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. LeBlanc proposed in front of Spaceship Earth -- the enormous golf ball at Epcot Center.
A small celebration erupted around the couple when they arrived with family members saying, "Let me see the ring!"
The two are "huge Disney fans," she says, collecting her bag in a pink Mickey Mouse sweatshirt.
"It feels really good. We didn't know when we'd be back," said her fiance LeBlanc, who is a banking data analyst at a company on Staten Island. LeBlanc spoke with his boss Wednesday who said not to bother coming in -- the power is still off at the company.
"It sounds like it will be out for a while," LeBlanc said.
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