East Coast digs out from mammoth snowstorm

Crews struggle to rescue drivers, restore power

A worker cleared snow yesterday from the roof of Saint Luke United Methodist Church in northwest Washington, D.C. A worker cleared snow yesterday from the roof of Saint Luke United Methodist Church in northwest Washington, D.C. (Cliff Owen/Associated Press)
By Patrick Walters
Associated Press / February 12, 2010

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PHILADELPHIA - Crews in Maryland worked to rescue motorists stranded on highways in snowdrifts up to 8 feet and utility workers scrambled to restore power to more than 100,000 customers a day after a powerful storm disrupted the lives of about 50 million people from the southern plains up through the East Coast.

The storm has been blamed for more than a dozen deaths, mostly in traffic accidents.

Snowbound airports resumed limited operations, but many flights were still canceled or delayed. School systems in the path of the storm remained closed for a second day, including those in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., although New York City schoolchildren headed back to class after only their third snow day in six years.

In Washington, the federal government was closed for a fourth straight day. The nation’s capital joined Philadelphia and Baltimore in logging their snowiest winters in history.

Paul Kocin, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Washington, said the storm was among the most disruptive ever because of its timing. He estimated 50 million people were affected.

“The big difference is that it occurred within a week and a half of three other storms,’’ Kocin said. “The combination of storms is almost unprecedented - the amount of snow, the amount of impact.’’

The latest storm dumped more than 19 inches in Baltimore, 10 inches in Washington, D.C., and 16 inches in Philadelphia. About 20 inches fell in central New Jersey, and totals ranged from 10 to 16 inches around New York City.

Rescue workers in western Maryland broke through 6- to 8-foot snowdrifts to reach motorists in more than two dozen vehicles stranded overnight on US 340. The highway became impassable after two tractor-trailers jackknifed and blocked the road.

Seamus Mooney, Frederick County director of emergency preparedness, said that by noon they were down to 12 vehicles with people still in them. Greg Shipley, Maryland State Police spokesman, said none of the stranded drivers appeared to be in physical distress and most chose to stay in their vehicles rather than go to a shelter.

Electric crews in New Jersey were working to restore power to more than 40,000 homes and businesses. About 70,000 utility customers in Pennsylvania were without power. Some never got it back after the last storm. More than 11,000 customers in Virginia were still in the dark.

The outages and hundreds of miles of unplowed roads have some mayors inundated with complaints.

“Right now I’m miserable. We still can’t get out,’’ said Carolyn Ward, who serves on a neighborhood commission in Washington. “If they had a plan, it wasn’t a good one.’’

Other residents complained that snow removal by Mayor Adrian Fenty’s administration seemed arbitrary, with some streets plowed numerous times, others not at all. At one point, 25 percent of the city’s snowplows were out of commission, having broken down on the hard snow, officials said.

Politicians heard similar complaints about slow or haphazard snow removal in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and outlying areas of Maryland.

How quickly the elected officials get rid of the stuff could determine their political futures, a hard lesson learned over the years by some big-city mayors.

“Snow, politically, in Washington - in most places - is a very high-stake poker game,’’ said Marion Barry, a former mayor of Washington who is now a city councilman. He was heavily criticized in 1987 for vacationing in California as snowstorms paralyzed his city for five days.

A Washington Examiner editorial yesterday declared, “Mayor Fenty fails the snow test,’’ noting that stores and other businesses that rely on private snow removal services cleared their property more quickly than the city did.

“I’d say give us another 24 hours; you’ll probably see a lot of normal operations of government,’’ the mayor said on CBS’s “Early Show.’’