Strain on roofs, roads, spirits

Slush closes lanes, cancels flights

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By David Abel
Globe Staff / February 3, 2011

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Dozens of roofs collapsed throughout the state, scores of cars and tractor-trailers spun out on ice-slickened highways, and hundreds of flight cancellations, train delays, and other headaches resulted from yesterday’s soggy onslaught of snow, sleet, and freezing rain.

It was perhaps the most miserable day yet in a relentless winter.

As of last evening, however, there were no serious injuries reported from all the damage.

“It wasn’t as powerful a storm as was predicted, but what we feared would happen with this storm, unfortunately, has come to fruition,’’ said Peter Judge, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, referring to the spate of collapsed roofs.

He and other officials said there were reports of 36 roofs caving in by 6 p.m., most of them at businesses with flat roofs, including warehouses, gas stations, and an airplane hanger.

In one commercial building in Easton, workers were so concerned after hearing strange noises that someone pulled a fire alarm, prompting about 100 people from two businesses there to rush outside in the frigid weather. Shortly afterward, the warehouse’s roof collapsed and then the cinder-block walls tumbled down.

“It was a bad scene; the building is a total loss,’’ Easton Fire Captain David Beals said in a telephone interview.

At a news conference in his office, Governor Deval Patrick warned of the dangers of the freezing roads later in the day that came after as much as an inch of rain followed more than 10 inches of snow in the Boston area. He warned commuters to stay off the roads.

“It’s very slow and hazardous going in lots of places, even in places where people have put down salt and ice melt,’’ Patrick said.

Phil Orlandella, a spokesman for Logan International Airport, said about 900 of the day’s 1,100 scheduled flights were canceled.

“I haven’t seen so many flights canceled in a long time,’’ he said. “That’s a lot of cancellations — definitely the worst it’s been since the season started.’’

State Police and highway officials said they were struggling to keep roads from flooding, as catch basins throughout the region were smothered with snow and steeped in rising pools of slush from the rain and melting snow.

Luisa Paiewonsky, administrator of the state Department of Transportation’s Highway Division, said the floods resulted in lane closures and backed up traffic on major arteries including in the Ted Williams Tunnel, Route 1 near Saugus, Interstate 93 in Woburn, Interstate 95 near Lexington, and on the Massachusetts Turnpike near Needham.

“We’ve been trying to push as much of the water off the road before it freezes and bonds with the pavement,’’ she said, noting the department had about 300 employees and 2,300 contractors trying to keep the roads clear.

In Boston, officials said the city hot line received more than 4,000 calls, many of them from people seeking help or calling in with complaints as a result of the storm.

Tom Bagley, a spokesman for the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, said his office received a record 220 complaints about clogged catch basins in the city.

“I’ve been here 20 years, and we haven’t seen anything like this before,’’ he said.

Those turning to public transportation to avoid the icy roads also faced challenges. The T reported numerous problems on its subway lines, changed several bus routes for safety reasons, and delayed commuter trains or changed their schedules.

Work crews “are being deployed throughout the rapid transit and commuter rail systems to address frozen switches or any other weather-related track issues,’’ MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo wrote in an e-mail.

The double-barreled storms over the past two days dumped 10.2 inches of snow on Boston, pushing the city’s total of the white stuff up to 70.5 inches for the season, 45.2 inches more than the average snowfall for this time of year, according to the National Weather Service in Taunton.

The highest snowfall total in the state yesterday, 15.3 inches, was recorded in Grafton.

Jim Notchey, a meteorologist at the weather service, said the additional rain made the snowfall much more dangerous. “When you combine it with any snow that is already on the roofs or on the trees and power lines, it’s just going to add to the weight,’’ he said. “Then it becomes a weight issue.’’

Among the many roofs reportedly destroyed by the weight of the snow were ones in Auburn, Chelsea, Hopkinton, Norwood, Randolph, Weymouth, and Wilmington. There was also a storage facility at Boston Cedar and Millwork, a building supplier.

“It’s been a tough winter,’’ said Jim Mulligan, the company’s operations manager.

Even with schools, companies, and government agencies closed throughout the region, it was a long day for many people, especially those trying to get around.

“This is the worst kind of weather,’’ said Andrew David, 27, a graduate student at Boston University, who was walking through Kenmore Square. “Snow is one thing, but slush is awful. Right now, my boots are not up to the task.’’

Lou Guilbault, a systems administrator at Boston University who was standing on a Green Line train, said he was tired of the onslaught. “I can’t wait for spring,’’ he said.

That could be a long wait. There will be a few days of sun but more snow is expected during the weekend.

Travis Andersen, Martin Finucane, and John Ellement of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents Jenna Duncan, Katherine Landergan, and Neal Riley contributed to this report. David Abel can be reached at