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In Suffolk County, N.Y., a makeshift storm shelter at Wal-Mart

February 10, 2013|By Marisa Gerber
  • Members of the Nissequogue Fire Department assist a stranded motorist in Suffolk County, N.Y., where a group of people took shelter at a Wal-Mart store.
Members of the Nissequogue Fire Department assist a stranded motorist… (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles…)

As Sixto Nunez surveyed the road conditions in Long Island on Saturday, he started to get anxious.

The 40-year-old Dominican immigrant had already braved three New York winters, but this was different. The plowed snow mounds looked menacing and, a few miles away, hundreds of cars, trucks and snowplows were marooned on the Long Island Expressway.

“All I saw was snow,” Sixto said in Spanish. “It was bad, there was way too much snow.”

Nunez turned to his friend, who had planned to take him home, and asked to go to the closest place he knew where he could stay warm and avoid the streets: Wal-Mart.

When Nunez arrived at the Middle Island, N.Y., Wal-Mart, about 7 p.m. Saturday, the store was closed -- and had been since Friday evening, because of the snowstorm.

It wasn't empty, however: Some employees were inside, along with several other people who had taken shelter there.

The manager let Nunez in and gave him juice, candy and a new change of clothes.

“They take care of people here,” Nunez said. “They’re nice. They’re good people."

Assistant manager Terence Cirillo told The Times on Sunday that Sixto and about 30 others – some employees, but mostly people seeking refuge – camped out at the store during the storm.

Workers set up cots in the pharmacy so people could rest. They handed out Cup O' Noodles and hot chocolate. And they let people watch DVDs in the electronics section.

“We made everyone feel like they were home,” Cirillo said, crediting the store’s manager, Jerry Greek, for welcoming the crowd in from the cold.

“He said it was the right thing to do,” Cirillo said. “It was a no-brainer.” 

By midmorning Sunday, the sun had emerged, the temperature had inched into the mid-30s and almost everyone had left.

But Nunez waited, just to be safe.

“I’m still here,” he said with a laugh. “It’s nice and calm.”

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Mass. boy gets in car for heat, dies of carbon monoxide poisoning

marisa.gerber@latimes.com

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