Groton digging out after storm

A snow-blower truck clears snow from Runway 5/23, at Groton-New London Airport in Groton as a front loader begins to clear the runway perimeter roadways, following the blizzard blanketing the region Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015.
A snow-blower truck clears snow from Runway 5/23, at Groton-New London Airport in Groton as a front loader begins to clear the runway perimeter roadways, following the blizzard blanketing the region Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015.

Groton - Massive snow drifts blocked the passage between schools and portable classrooms, snow covered some school emergency exits, public sidewalks remained unplowed and people walked along major streets, including Routes 1 and 12, on Wednesday - one day after a blizzard dumped about 2 feet of snow on the region.

Public Schools Superintendent Michael Graner closed school for today, the third consecutive day.

"Some of our schools have like 8-foot drifts between the schools and the portable classrooms, and the fire exits have like 5-foot drifts," he said. "It's a mess."

Town public works crews worked for 53 straight hours to make every road passable in town, then went home at noon on Wednesday, Public Works director Gary Schneider said. They expected to return at 4 a.m. Thursday.

Town public works has 93 miles of road and clears the driveways and parking lots of three public schools: Carl C. Cutler Middle School, Catherine Kolnaski Magnet School and Robert E. Fitch High School, Schneider said. School facilities officials must handle the parking lots and driveways of the other schools as well as the sidewalks and emergency exits of the schools, Graner said.

Public works crews let school crews use their equipment, and school staff continued clearing, Graner said.

At West Side Middle School, the drift between the building and the portable was just too much to clear. "That's shovel work. Our crew was working yesterday and all day today, and they're just exhausted," Graner said.

"This storm is obviously of huge proportions, and what we have in terms of equipment for the town and the schools is sufficient for 99 percent of the situations that we face," Graner said.

'It's just ridiculous'

In Noank, some residents were frustrated.

"This is unacceptable," said Debbie Holmes, as she walked down snow-covered Pearl Street. "Our next storm we're supposed to get (snow) Sunday night. Where are they going to put it?"

Arlene Stamm of Smith Court said drivers had to pull into driveways because only one car could get by at a time.

"It's passable. I mean, I got out, and I was able to get to the drugstore, but only after my son cleared out everything," she said. "I think we're a forgotten commodity. It's just ridiculous."

About 20 town employees work on snow removal, including mechanics and supervisors, Schneider said. The system of snow removal has improved, and the equipment has been well maintained and works well, he said. But the volume of snow was large.

"It has gotten better, but people's patience has worn thin," he said. As of Wednesday, Groton had used about 400 of the 600 tons of salt it usually has on hand, Schneider said. It expected another shipment Wednesday or Thursday, he said.

Crews planned to start sidewalks early Thursday, particularly around schools.

"Then we'll be attacking the other public sidewalks. We'll clear Route 1 and Route 12. Right now, people are walking in the road," Schneider said. Crews will also remove snow at intersections to improve sight lines for drivers.

"Right now, it's very hard to edge out onto the road," Schneider said.

Teenagers around?
'Put them to work'

Groton City Mayor Marian Galbraith said the city had good feedback on its plowing, but she was glad school would be out another day to give crews more time to clear sidewalks for students who walk. The city kept its parking ban in effect until 7 a.m. Thursday.

Joseph Sastre, Groton's director of emergency management, urged neighbors to look out for one another while shoveling. A 70-year-old Mystic man on Warren Avenue suffered a fatal heart attack at about 4:45 p.m. Tuesday, while shoveling the sidewalk in front of his house, Sastre said.

The man's wife was doing chest compressions when emergency personnel arrived, Sastre said. The man was taken by ambulance to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, but could not be revived. His identity was not available Wednesday.

"If you've got an elderly neighbor and you've got teenagers, or you've got middle-aged folks nearby, send the teenagers over. Put them to work," Sastre said. "Help (the neighbor) out."

Laurie Belisle, who lives on Warren Avenue, said she saw ambulances and got a bad feeling. "I'm almost 60, and I'm really careful," she said.

In Noank Village, two men shoveled out their fathers' driveways. Anthony Corcella of Niantic, who works for the state Department of Correction, spent the night at work Monday, got home Tuesday night and then shoveled his father's driveway on Wednesday.

Bob Porter cleared the walk to his father's house on Main Street. "This is my second round," Porter said, then corrected himself. "Really, the third."

Gary Williams, who lives in Hopkinton, R.I., but works in Noank, used a leaf blower instead of a shovel.

"Because (the snow) was light and fluffy, it worked like a charm," he said. "The only thing was if the wind blew it went right back in your face."

Russell Fowler, superintendent of Noank Water Co., dug out fire hydrants. He couldn't see them all, but he knew where they were.

"We have 83 (hydrants), but we're not going to be able to clear all of them today," said Fowler, 73, who took a break for lunch with Bert Kelley, 87.

Fowler used his snowblower. Kelley shoveled. They started with the most essential hydrants first: three on Pearl Street, one on Potter Court and one on Main Street. They planned to move to Noank Village Boatyard Wednesday afternoon. Two other teams cleared hydrants in the Crosswinds subdivision and Mystic River Homes Congregate Housing, a retirement facility.

"We're just going to keep chugging," Fowler said. "We do what we can."

d.straszheim@theday.com

Twitter: @DStraszheim

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