Region digging its way back to normal after the blizzard

A group of shovelers clear out cars along Crystal Avenue in New London on Wednesday.
A group of shovelers clear out cars along Crystal Avenue in New London on Wednesday.

New London — The same streets that on Tuesday seemed as desolate as the Siberian tundra came alive Wednesday morning when the sun rose on the Whaling City and its residents began the plodding work to dig out and return to normal.

Downtown, city crews and private contractors toiled to clear streets, sidewalks and parking lots of the 2 feet of powder dropped like a blanket onto the city by a blizzard Tuesday.

Residents elsewhere in the city shoveled driveways and walkways, some tackling the challenge of extricating a vehicle from a car-shaped mountain of snow to be ready for work today. City firefighters, working in pairs, quickly shoveled out fire hydrants to ensure access in the case of an emergency.

Luxuriating in a second consecutive snow day, children took to the hills to glide and slide through the fresh powder. Other more enterprising teens roamed the streets with shovels, looking to help neighbors and put a buck or two in their own pockets.

"This was an incredible response to what was one of the largest storms to ever hit the city of New London," Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said. "When you consider the amount of snowfall we got, how quickly it came and the blizzard conditions our crews had to work in, where we are now is remarkable."

New London lifted its state of emergency declaration just after noon Wednesday as plowing continued, and the downtown parking ban ended at 8 p.m. City offices will be open as normal this morning, though schools will remain closed for a third day.

Finizio said that is because there is very little space to put the snow downtown, New London crews are using front-end loaders and Bobcats to put the snow in dump trucks, which will haul the snow to either the Fort Trumbull peninsula or the empty lot at the corner of Bank and Howard streets, Finizio said.

Driving through the city Wednesday afternoon, most major thoroughfares had been cleared down to the pavement while side streets were passable but still covered in a layer of snow.

"We are making very good progress, considering the amount of snow we received," Finizio said Wednesday afternoon.

Outside the downtown neighborhood, the mayor said, crews will focus on widening roads to something more than a single lane.

"It's going to be difficult because just to get a single lane down each street puts a significant snow pile on either side of that lane," he said. "To move those piles back will take a good amount of time. But we're going to keep at it day after day to get it to where we know it needs to be and to where we want it to be. Getting access to every road first was our priority."

New London Director of Public Works Tim Hanser said the central third of the city - north of Lawrence + Memorial Hospital and south of Broad Street - is the hardest to plow due to its high number of narrow roadways.

Hanser said the city was not as hard hit this week as it was when the last blizzard occurred in February 2013, but that clearing work was of comparable difficulty nonetheless.

Snow on roads and sidewalks posed a challenge for emergency medical crews Tuesday and Wednesday, according to New London Fire Department Battalion Chief Tom Curcio.

Curcio said that he has had to send out six or seven people with each medical call, instead of the regular two sent out on most calls. A four-wheel drive vehicle accompanied each ambulance in case the ambulance could not get down a road covered too deeply in snow.

Curcio said some patients had to be extracted as a result of the snow, which he said is also in part due to people not shoveling their sidewalks.

Emergency responders in some cases had to shovel or otherwise clear a path to access a patient's house. In one situation, Curcio said, EMTs had to borrow a snow blower from a neighbor to make a path to a patient's house.

"We had several significant medical incidents during the storm and we were able to reach all the people we had to reach," Finizio said. "DPW worked in concert with the New London Fire Department and the police department to punch holes through and we got people to the hospital."

Plowing crews from Bridgeport that helped the New London DPW clear roads and parking lots and dig out the city's schools returned to their home city at about noon Wednesday, after extending their shifts beyond what had been planned.

In Waterford as well, clearing of side roads lagged behind that of main roads, according to First Selectman Daniel Steward.

"The roads are passable," he said. "They're not perfect yet. We continue to work on them."

He said private contractors remained in town to help with clearing. The town's Emergency Operations Center was closed Tuesday and municipal offices were open Wednesday.

East Lyme lifted its declaration of emergency at 11 a.m. Wednesday. Town Hall and town buildings opened Wednesday, but a parking ban will remain in effect until noon today.

East Lyme First Selectman Mark Nickerson said the town used its fleet of trucks, snowblowers and plows to clear the roads and push snow onto curbs, and will next work on removing piles of snow with pay-loaders and dump trucks downtown and in some beach neighborhoods.

"Our guys are battle-tested. We've been through this," he said. "We've done this. I've got outstanding department heads and road crews and guys in the trenches who get this done."

Old Lyme Emergency Management Director Dave Roberge said Wednesday that public works crews had plowed all the town's roads and continued to remove snow from intersections.

Residents heeded precautions about the blizzard and the statewide travel ban, which made it easier for the town's crews to clear roads, he said.

"I think the fact that we didn't lose electricity and we didn't have flooding made all the difference," First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder said.

Lyme First Selectman Ralph Eno said the town's roads were in good shape as of Wednesday afternoon. A public works crew will likely be out this morning to treat any ice patches that develop overnight.

The Naval Submarine Base remained closed to all but non-essential personnel Wednesday as its public works personnel, contractors and sailors removed snow from the base.

The base is expected to be open for normal operations today.

Despite the efforts of city workers in New London, many of whom have been working nearly around the clock since Monday morning, and assistance from others, Finizio expects that it will be days before the city gets back to normal.

"There is more to be done because of a storm of this size, but we are where we would like to be at this point," he said. "We're going to keep on working on it until we finish digging out. But it will still take a couple more days until we see any return to normalcy."

c.young@theday.com

Twitter: @ColinAYoung

Staff Writers Tess Townsend, Kimberly Drelich and Julia Bergman contributed to this report.

Norwich public works crews use a tractor-driven snow thrower to clear Main Street on Wednesday.
Norwich public works crews use a tractor-driven snow thrower to clear Main Street on Wednesday.

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