Big dig

Af­ter as much as three feet of snow blan­kets re­gion, North­east be­gins work to bounce back

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY DOUG STRUCK health-sci­ence@wash­ Colum Lynch in New York; Mary Beth Sheri­dan in Cam­bridge, Mass.; and Robert McCart­ney in Stowe, Vt., contributed to this report.

CON­CORD, MASS. — The mas­sive bl­iz­zard that whipped New Eng­land this week­end with hur­ri­cane-force winds and crush­ing snow tested the readi­ness of au­thor­i­ties to deal with the in­creas­ing fre­quency of se­vere and record-break­ing weather.

State of­fi­cials in Mas­sachusetts took the rare step of or­der­ing cars off the streets in ad­vance of the storm, while in Long Is­land, hun­dreds of com­muters were sur­prised and stranded by the bl­iz­zard, which dumped two to three feet of snow on the re­gion.

The storm claimed at least four lives and added to the march of ex­treme weather events in the past year that in­cludes Hur­ri­cane Sandy, a deep drought, the hottest U.S. year on record and wide­spread wild­fires in the West.

Au­thor­i­ties in Bos­ton said an 11-year-old boy died from car­bon­monox­ide poi­son­ing when he and his fa­ther warmed up from snow shov­el­ing by hud­dling in­side a car whose ex­haust was blocked by snow. In New York’s Columbia County, a man plow­ing on a trac­tor died when he ran off the road. A pedes­trian in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., died af­ter he was struck while walking along a snowy road­side, and a Con­necti­cut man col­lapsed and died while shov­el­ing snow, ac­cord­ing to news re­ports.

The storm rum­bled up the East Coast along the path of most of New Eng­land’s famed nor’easters. It lashed seafront towns, sent surges of water onto streets at high tide, and de­parted with tons of pre­cious beach­front prop­erty.

But the com­bi­na­tion of lucky tim­ing — the storm ar­rived on a Fri­day — and ad­vance warn­ing gave res­i­dents plenty of time to hun­ker down and get off the road­ways. That lim­ited the prob­lems and should al­low a straight­for­ward cleanup. Au­thor­i­ties praised Mas­sachusetts Gov. De­val Pa­trick’s de­ci­sion to or­der cars off the streets Fri­day, clear­ing the roads for emer­gency crews.

“I’m happy to report the city, so far, has weath­ered the storm well,” Bos­ton Mayor Thomas M. Menino said at noon Satur­day. New Eng­land’s largest city was dead cen­ter on the storm’s path but es­caped ma­jor power out­ages and flood­ing.

Towns north and south of Bos­ton fared worse. Waves chopped away the foun­da­tions of beach­front homes in Mas­sachusetts com­mu­ni­ties of Sand­wich, Hull and Sc­i­t­u­ate. Most of those homes were va­cated by res­i­dents wary of the churn­ing sea be­fore a mid­morn­ing high tide sent salty water rac­ing through streets.

Power com­pa­nies re­ported that 600,000 cus­tomers had lost power by Satur­day morn­ing. Util­ity crews re­mained poised in­side mo­tels, their bucket trucks parked, un­til the howl­ing wind qui­eted to a whis­per and the power work­ers could safely reach lines en­cased in ice and snow.

Gov­er­nors in all the New Eng­land states de­clared states of emer­gency, opened up shel­ters, and shut down air­ports and pub­lic trans­port.

The storm ri­valed the his­toric grip of the Bl­iz­zard of ’78, a 36hour white­out that New Eng­lan­ders cite as a high-water mark of grim win­ters. This year’s storm plowed up the At­lantic coast and em­braced Bos­ton with sweep­ing arcs of snow and wind that reached into Ver­mont, New Hamp­shire and south­ern Maine on Fri­day night.

Whenit passed, it had de­liv­ered al­most 25 inches at Bos­ton’s of­fi­cial mea­sur­ing sta­tion at Lo­gan In­ter­na­tional Air­port, 2 1/2 inches short of a record. But other towns in Mas­sachusetts and New Hamp­shire re­ported snow to­tals of as high as 34 inches. Mil­ford, Conn., recorded 38 inches.

Re­gard­less of its place in the record books, the bl­iz­zard is likely to add to the dis­cus­sion about the in­creas­ing fre­quency of un­usual weather events glob­ally, rang­ing from floods in Pak­istan that sent 20 mil­lion peo­ple flee­ing to the stun­ning melt-off of nearly half the Arc­tic ice cap, events con­sis­tent with cli­mate change.

New York City, still re­cov­er­ing from Sandy’s stag­ger­ing blow, “dodged a bul­let,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Satur­day morn­ing.

“I think it’s fair to say that we were very lucky. We cer­tainly avoided the worst of it, and our thoughts go out to the peo­ple of Con­necti­cut, Rhode Is­land, Mas­sachusetts, New Hamp­shire, Ver­mont, Maine,” the mayor said. “If we can do any­thing to help them, we cer­tainly will. . . . When we were in trou­ble, the coun­try came to our aid, and we want to make sure we do the same.”

But parts of Long Is­land were hit with more than 30 inches of snow, catch­ing com­muters by sur­prise and strand­ing some in their cars for up to 12 hours.

New York Gov. An­drew M. Cuomo asked for help from other towns to help dig out east­ern Long Is­land. About 200 peo­ple were stranded in cars Fri­day night in Suf­folk County, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press, prompt­ing ques­tions of whether the roads should have been closed.

Pa­trick’s de­ci­sion to or­der a ban on non-es­sen­tial travel through- out Mas­sachusetts on Fri­day af­ter­noon was the first time such pow­ers had been evoked in the state since the Bl­iz­zard of ’ 78, is­sued then af­ter hun­dreds of stranded cars blocked cleanup of the road­way.

“This is not some­thing one does lightly,” Pa­trick said af­ter the worst of the storm had passed. “Con­sid­er­ing what might have hap­pened if we had not had that ban, I think we were pretty well served by it.”

Com­muter trains and Am­trak from Bos­ton made their last runs Fri­day af­ter­noon, crowded with pas­sen­gers who waited for the fi­nal chance to get home. Menino sent Bos­ton city work­ers home and mo­bi­lized 600 plows and trucks to com­bat the storm.

For some, the week­end storm meant more hol­i­day than hard­ship. Schools were can­celed Fri­day, many em­ploy­ers called off work, and most oth­ers sent their staff home by mid­day to avoid com­mut­ing prob­lems.

Kate Ruh, 19, brought her sleep­ing bag and in­flat­able mat­tress to work at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Con­cord, Mass., to stay Fri­day night. She was nearly snowed in Satur­day, un­able to swing the doors open for emer­gency crews be­cause of snow­drifts.

“The snow­plow guys asked if I was open. I said, ‘if you can get the doors open, I am,’ ” Ruh said, laugh­ing.

New York City ac­cu­mu­lated 8.1 inches of snow in Cen­tral Park. Hours af­ter the storm passed, the main air­ports, John F. Kennedy In­ter­na­tional Air­port and LaGuardia, re-opened for lim­ited ser­vice. Grand Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal, which had can­celed travel dur­ing the storm, re­sumed ser­vice on the Har­lem and Hud­son lines at 11:20 a.m. Satur­day, but travel to hard-hit Con­necti­cut had not been re­sumed.

In mid­town Man­hat­tan, mo­torists largely heeded Bloomberg’s ad­vice to stay off the roads, leav­ing stretches of Madi­son Av­enue and Fifth Av­enue vir­tu­ally car-free in the early morn­ing hours. But the streets quickly be­gan to fill with tourists who came out to find the streets and side­walks largely cleared of snow.

Steve Holton, 52, an Epis­co­pal priest, and his wife, Char­lotte, skied across Cen­tral Park. “It’s won­der­ful, as you can see: only six or eight inches, just right for cross-coun­try ski­ing,” he said. “It’s per­fect, just at freez­ing so the snow is go­ing to last, at least un­til it turns into slush, which al­ways hap­pens in New York.”

One place the storm was pop­u­lar was the ski re­sort in Stowe, Vt., which got about two feet of ex­tra snow at the top of the moun­tain and 18 inches at the base. The snow was fall­ing so fast Fri­day that work­ers groom­ing the trails were barely able to keep up. By Satur­day, how­ever, with the storm gone, the ski­ing was ex­cel­lent.

Janet Bass of Bethesda was in Stowe for a long week­end with her hus­band and teenage daugh­ter.

“We came up a day early [ Thurs­day] to beat the storm, and it worked out great. Lots of pow­der . . . great ski con­di­tions,” Bass said.

The 312-room Stowe Moun­tain Lodge was fully booked Satur­day night and had only two rooms empty on Fri­day. Book­ings for the rest of the sea­son jumped.

“Typ­i­cally what hap­pens when we get a storm like this is the phone starts ring­ing im­me­di­ately, and that’s what hap­pened here, for fu­ture book­ings,” said Richard McLen­nan, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the lodge.

In the Bos­ton area, many res­i­dents seemed to take the his­toric storm in stride, even as it buried their cars, shut down pub­lic tran­sit, and closed nearly all shops and restau­rants.

“I grew up in Maine. I don’t have a ner­vous break­down when this hap­pens,” said James Wood­man, 55, a mu­sic com­poser, as he took a break from shov­el­ing a path to his home in Cam­bridge.

He said he had stocked up in ad­vance on four storm es­sen­tials: Triscuits, peanut but­ter, vodka and toi­let pa­per. “I could last a week now,” he said.

Roads were nearly empty on Satur­day, with only tow trucks, snow­plows, city main­te­nance ve­hi­cles and the oc­ca­sional van bar­rel­ing through.

“It’s been 24 hours with no sleep,” said Louis Lu­ciano of the Cam­bridge city traf­fic de­part­ment as he paused in his truck from clear­ing park­ing lots and side­walks. Was he ex­hausted? “We’re warriors!” he bel­lowed. The drone of snow­blow­ers filled the air as homeowners and main­te­nance work­ers strug­gled to carve paths through the snow. But amid the drudgery, there was also a sense of won­der at the mag­ni­tude and beauty of the snow.

At Har­vard Univer­sity, a few stu­dents were glid­ing across cam­pus on cross-coun­try skis. One stomped through drifts in snow­shoes. An­gela Zhang, 18, a fresh­man, was clutch­ing a cafe­te­ria tray and search­ing for the per­fect hill.

“I’m from Cal­i­for­nia,” she said. “This is the first one of th­ese I’ve ever seen.”


Pa­trick Cram­phorn places an “open” flag on the P.I. Beach­coma Restau­rant in New­bury­port, Mass., af­ter the storm’s pas­sage.

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