February 10, 2013

New England slowly returns to normal in wake of winter storm Nemo

By BOB SALSBERG, Associated Press

NEWPORT, R.I. — Travel eased and life slowly returned to normal for most New Englanders after a massive blizzard, but many remained without power in cold and darkened homes and a forecast of rain brought a new worry: Weight piling up dangerously on roofs already burdened by heavy snow.

click image to enlarge

Bert Johnson takes a break while clearing snow from a bus stop bench outside the apartment complex where he lives in Portland, on Sunday. Residents were digging out after a blizzard dumped a record 31.9 inches of snow on the city.

AP photo by Robert F. Bukaty

The storm that slammed into the region with up to 3 feet of snow was blamed for at least 14 deaths in the Northeast and Canada, and brought some of the highest accumulations ever recorded. Still, coastal areas were largely spared catastrophic damage despite being lashed by strong waves and hurricane-force wind gusts at the height of the storm.

Hundreds of people, their homes without heat or electricity, were forced to take refuge in emergency shelters set up in schools or other places.

"For all the complaining everyone does, people really came through," said Rich Dinsmore, 65, of Newport, R.I., who was staying at a Red Cross shelter set up in a middle school in Middletown after the power went out in his home on Friday.

Dinsmore, who has emphysema, was first brought by ambulance to a hospital after the medical equipment he relies on failed when the power went out and he had difficulty breathing.

"The police, the fire department, the state, the Red Cross, the volunteers, it really worked well," said the retired radio broadcaster and Army veteran.

Utility crews, some brought in from as far away as Georgia, Oklahoma and Quebec, raced to restore power to more than 300,000 customers — down from 650,000 in eight states at the height of the storm. In hardest-hit Massachusetts, where some 234,000 customers remained without power on Sunday, officials said some of the outages might linger until Tuesday.

Driving bans were lifted and flights resumed at major airports in the region that had closed during the storm, though many flights were still canceled Sunday.

The Boston-area public transportation system, which shut down on Friday afternoon, partially resumed subway service and some bus routes on Sunday. Beverly Scott, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, said full service was expected on Monday — albeit with delays.

"Give yourself more time and expect that it is going to take us more time," Scott advised riders.

Boston public schools were among many in the region that had already decided to cancel classes on Monday.

Boston recorded 24.9 inches of snow, making it the fifth-largest storm in the city since records were kept. The city was appealing to the state and private contractors for more front-end loaders and other heavy equipment to clear snow piles that were clogging residential streets.

On eastern Long Island, which was slammed with as much as 30 inches of snow, hundreds of snowplows and other heavy equipment were sent in Sunday to clear ice- and drift-covered highways where hundreds of people and cars were abandoned during the height of the storm.

More than a third of all the state's snow-removal equipment was sent to the area, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, including more than 400 plow trucks and more than 100 snow blowers, loaders and backhoes.

The National Weather Service was forecasting rain and warmer temperatures in the region on Monday — which could begin melting some snow but also add considerable weight to snow already piled on roofs, posing the danger of collapse. Of greatest concern were flat or gently-sloped roofs and officials said people should try to clear them — but only if they could do so safely.

"We don't recommend that people, unless they're young and experienced, go up on roofs," said Peter Judge, spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

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