(skip this header)

Darien News

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

dariennewsonline.com Businesses

« Back to Article

Blizzard leaves state snowbound

Connecticut Post
Updated 9:37 am, Tuesday, February 12, 2013

nextprevious

  • Dave Stec uses a snowblower to clear his driveway in Derby, Conn. as residents face massive snow removal Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013 following a severe blizzard that dumped up to three feet of snow across the state. Photo: Autumn Driscoll
    Dave Stec uses a snowblower to clear his driveway in Derby, Conn. as residents face massive snow removal Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013 following a severe blizzard that dumped up to three feet of snow across the state. Photo: Autumn Driscoll

 

Larger | Smaller
Email This
Font
Page 1 of 1

Southwestern Connecticut is slowly starting to dig out from one of the biggest snowstorms in history, a howling blizzard that dumped up to 40 inches of snow across the state.

Getting back to normal will take days. In fact, some said the 30 inches that fell in Bridgeport was the deepest snow in city history -- at least in recent memory.

But city historian Mary K. Witkowsky said that the blizzard of 1888 was even worse: "That one had 14-foot drifts. Men were crawling out of second-floor factory windows."

In Trumbull, First Selectman Tim Herbst said the blizzard of 2013 was the worst winter storm he has ever seen.

"I'm 32 years old, and I've never seen anything like this in my life," he told the Connecticut Post. "At least we have power, and we all have to be thankful for that.

"Because if we lost power, it would have been worse than Sandy, with these 6- and 7-foot-high drifts," he said. "It's to the point where there's so much snow, you're going to have to put in payloaders and move it someplace else."

Four storm deaths

Four storm-related deaths are being investigated by police, including a gruesome discovery in the Bridgeport's North End. A 53-year-old man was found dead under the snow outside his house on Old Town Road Saturday afternoon, officials said.

The man was pronounced dead at the scene. Police established that the man was last seen alive by family members between 10 and 10:30 Friday night.

In Shelton around 4 a.m. Saturday, fire and EMS personnel responded to a Darrin Drive home for a medical emergency. Upon arrival a 49-year-old man was found to be unconscious and not breathing. The man was pronounced dead on the scene.

The preliminary investigation revealed the man had been plowing his private driveway when his vehicle became stuck. It appears the man suffered a medical event while shoveling out the vehicle.

There were two other storm-related deaths in the region.

State Police said an 81-year-old woman using a snowblower was hit by a vehicle and killed Friday night in Prospect. Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton tweeted late Saturday morning that there was one storm-related death in that city.

Wanted: A big truck

Derby Mayor Anthony Staffieri said this historic storm taught the city an important lesson -- the small pickup and dump trucks can't handle this amount of snow.

"They just can't push this amount of snow," he said. "We had to hire some independent contractors with payloaders."

Staffieri said the main roads, particularly Division Street leading to Griffin Hospital, is clear as are most of the hills. But he said the secondary streets are the challenge.

"We have nowhere to put it," he said of the seemingly endless piles of snow.

Once all the streets are clear, Staffieri said, snow removal will begin by trucking piles to the old Housatonic Lumber site downtown. But that probably won't happen until Monday.

Staffieri also said he wasn't sure if the lots at Derby schools will be cleared in time for Monday's opening. Indeed, it appeared many school districts in the state will have shuttered schools come Monday morning.

Another challenge, Staffieri said, is not overworking the crews.

"They are working very hard," he said. "We don't want them getting overtired. We need them."

Both the mayor and the Public Works Department urged people and plows not to leave big piles of snow in the streets, a scenario that led to at least two accidents in Derby.

In Oxford, First Selectman George Temple banned travel on all roads in town until noon Sunday as crews work on snow removal there. As a result, church services are expected to be cancelled Sunday.

Released from obligation

The Roman Catholic Church, citing Canon law, informed parishioners they would be "dispensed from the normal obligation" according to a news release from the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford.

A similar sentiment was expressed by the Diocese of Bridgeport.

"We'd like to urge people not to attend Mass if they think that it might jeopardize their safety," Diocese of Bridgeport spokesman Brian Wallace said Saturday.

"But we know that there are at least a few people who live within walking distance of their church and who will want to attend Mass. There are always a few people who show up, regardless of the weather."

Wallace said the decision to close is made "at the parish level," so there might be a few churches closed Sunday.

"Try to check their websites if you can, or give your church a call first," Wallace advised.

Transit shut down

For those who use public transportation to get to church, Metro-North service remained suspended for most trains on the New Haven line Saturday.

This interruption will remain in effect "until further notice," MTA officials said. The branch lines were shut down, too.

Service resumed between Stamford and Grand Central Terminal with the westbound 1:57 p.m. train out of Stamford on Saturday. But aside from that, there was no commuter railroad service.

Greater Bridgeport Transit buses won't run until Sunday morning at the earliest, officials said. The snow was just too deep Friday and Saturday.

The lens of history

Emil Frankel knows a thing or two about cleaning up after winter storms.

Frankel was Connecticut's transportation commissioner from 1991 to 1995. He returned for a second tour in early 2008 as acting commissioner for a few months. Along the way, he was an assistant secretary with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Frankel now lives in Washington, D.C., but he still has family in Connecticut. He phoned his niece in Shelton to ask how she was faring after the storm.

Frankel said one of the obvious challenges for state and local snow removal crews is finding somewhere to pile all the snow and to figure out how to clear it from one area without blocking another.

"They're very sensitive to the fact they can't deprive people of access and do the best they can," Frankel said. "But it is hard."

The state, cities and towns will need construction equipment like heavy loaders and dump trucks to clear all the snow, Frankel predicted.

"I'm sure they have access (to the equipment)," he said. "The question is how much of it there is. And you can't deploy it every place at the same time."

Frankel assured Connecticut residents that the state's road maintainers are more than up to the cleanup challenge.

"The maintainers are terrific. It's like firemen. They're at their best when there's a personal challenge like this," Frankel said.

Lou Malerba, meanwhile, worked for the state Department of Transportation for 37 years, retiring in 2003 as a maintenance administrator.

For longtime residents, this weekend's storm reminded them of the blizzard of 1978. Back then, Malerba was a maintenance supervisor working out of the DOT garage in Milford.

Malerba said he believes the amount of precipitation and winds with Nemo were worse than in 1978, but for various reasons, Connecticut and the DOT were far better prepared this time.

He said the equipment forecasters use now is far more sophisticated. In 1978, many forecasters had underestimated the severity of the storm.

The tools used by the DOT are also 35 years more advanced. For example, Malerba said, trucks employ temperature censors to determine the optimum time to sand roadways.

"Technology back then was not there. We didn't have beepers, cell phones. We had two-way radios in our trucks that barely worked," Malerba recalled. "Back then, we were flying off the seat of our pants."

Another big difference is the 1978 blizzard struck on a Monday.

"Nobody called for a massive blizzard. Everybody went to work and got stuck on (interstates) 95 or 91. We couldn't plow the roads until the wreckers started pulling cars and trucks (out)," Malerba said.

A state of emergency

In Stratford, Mayor John Harkins declared a state of emergency because of the storm's powerful punch, a wallop that dropped 40 inches on Hamden, tops in Connecticut, according to the National Weather Service.

"All roads are closed indefinitely to non-public safety and non-public works personnel," Harkins said in an emailed dispatch to the press. "Staying off the roads will allow town crews to start opening up roadways. Many roads are impassable."

Harkins also urged residents to clear the snow from fire hydrants in case they were needed to fight a fire.

The worst since Larry

Milford Mayor Benjamin Blake said that the storm was the worst one to hit Milford since Storm Larry barrelled through Connecticut in 1978.

"I spent most of the morning (on Saturday) in a plow truck, and it's just slow moving," he said. "The volume of snow is such that we have to find a place to put it. An unprecedented situation."

He said the city has called in private contractors to help out, but even with the extra hands, it will take at least a day or two for travel in the city to get back to normal.

A small building at Steven's Ford on the Post Road in Milford collapsed, but Assistant Fire Chief Robert Healey said there were no injuries.

It was not one of the main buildings at the auto dealership.

Staff writers Mike Mayko, Rob Varnon, Brian Lockhart, John Burgeson and James Shay contributed to this report.