Blizzard leaves us with lots to dig out

Walsh Park Coasting: Sprung from school, Madeleine (9) and Clare (6) Ablett enjoyed the thrill ride on the slopes of Clancy Road. Photo courtesy Ann WalshWalsh Park Coasting: Sprung from school, Madeleine (9) and Clare (6) Ablett enjoyed the thrill ride on the slopes of Clancy Road. Photo courtesy Ann WalshIt was not quite the Blizzard of ‘78. But the weekend northeaster that tore into the region last Friday afternoon might have been a close cousin.

The storm dumped more than two feet of wind-driven snow onto Boston’s neighborhoods by Saturday afternoon, disrupting the drumbeat of daily life, forcing school cancellations and prompting a record number of service calls to City Hall. By mid-week, Boston was still in recovery mode, but a return to normalcy was at hand, with schools re-open freeing house-bound families from a five-day stretch of severe cabin fever.

“Our snow removal teams did great work throughout the night last night,” Mayor Menino said on Tuesday. “Our crews will be out there all day and again tonight as we continue to widen roads, make our schools safe for students, and respond to residents’ concerns about residential areas.”

The region’s storm response was challenged by the sheer volume of snowfall in a 24 hour period. Governor Patrick ordered all non-essential vehicles off the road— a measure which drew some complaints at first, but proved to be a key decision that likely prevented problems and sped up the recovery efforts. The city of Boston instituted a snow emergency and cancelled school for three days as plow drivers labored around the clock to navigate narrow streets and mountains of white stuff.

Irene Roman, a longtime Meetinghouse Hill resident who witnessed the Blizzard of ’78, said that the city’s response to this blizzard was superb.

“When you stop and think the amount of snow out there, I think they have done a fantastic job on Stanley Street," Roman said on Wednesday. “We always have some people who want it plowed before the snow even falls- and they tend to be the ones that you find haven’t touched their sidewalk. But I think they deserve a lot of kudos at Public Works and the other city departments.”

Roman said that when she called City Hall to get a plow to respond to a dead end street that had not been plowed promptly, a supervisor from the nearby Hancock Street public works yard responded "right away.”

Snow-draped sunset on Sunday: Kenji Quinn snapped this shot from his home near River Street and Central Ave. in Lower Mills.Snow-draped sunset on Sunday: Kenji Quinn snapped this shot from his home near River Street and Central Ave. in Lower Mills.Bob Moylan, the commissioner of Public Works and Parks in Worcester, said he was impressed with how well Boston responded to the challenge.

“Public expectations need to be tempered given the severity of this storm and the parking conditions in Boston,” said Moylan. “Plowing streets in Boston — where many of them have cars on both sides— it’s not the same as plowing a highway. Boston has done as an effective job as you can knowing the difficulties. There’s nothing magical that can be done.”

Despite all of the precautions and warnings, there were two storm-related fatalities in the neighborhood. Boston Fire and Police departments found a man in his 20s dead in a car outside 57 Woolson St. in Mattapan around 4:20 p.m. on Saturday. Authorities say the man, who may have gotten in the car as early as 11 a.m., may have died from carbon monoxide poisoning due to a blocked exhaust pipe.

Earlier in the day, a 14 year-old boy on Nazing Street was pronounced dead after he took refuge from the chill of snow shoveling inside his father’s running car. Authorities urged residents to ensure exhaust pipes are not blocked before they start their cars and get in them.

Chris ‘Tiger’ Stockbridge, who works as a sergeant for the city’s Code Enforcement Police, said the storm triggered the largest volume of calls that he’s witnessed in 23 years on the job. The vast majority of the calls were from people reporting scofflaws who failed to shovel their sidewalks— a violation that results in a $50 per day fine to residents or $200 to businesses.

“It’s the technology, because people can make the complaints in real time using Citizens Connect. You’ve got to give the mayor and City Hall credit because they’ve made it easy to make the complaints. In the old days you’d walk by an unshoveled house and get home and then get busy with the kids and forget about it. Now it's easy: they have an app for that.”

The Code Enforcement Police, Stockbridge said, has issued some 600 violations so far across the city. The department deployed extra officers on an overnight shift to keep up with the demand, he said.
“We devised a plan- never done before- where we’ve begun putting officers out to issue complaints starting at midnight, when there’s no traffic to battle and we can hit the complaints a lot faster.”

Sgt. Stockbridge said that officers will also use “common-sense” and not whack residents or merchants who have shown some effort to comply with city rules regarding shoveling.

“We’re really out to get the ones who do nothing,” said Stockbridge, who lives near Adams Corner and spent much of his off-hours this week helping neighbors dig out.

“The best part of the storm was seeing people pitching in. None of our elderly neighbors have to worry about shoveling, because everyone is out snow-blowing. And everyone had smiles on their faces. It was a lot of work that we did and there was some frustration, but we did it.”

Stockbridge said that neighbors should call in complaints about unshoveled properties to the Mayor’s 24 hour hotline— 617-635-4500— or directly to Code Enforcement to 617-635-4896.