Cities dig out after deadly snowstorm buries much of East Coast

Posted at 10:06 AM, Jan 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-24 12:02:50-05

Cities scrambled Sunday morning to dig themselves out from the snow and ice of a massive winter storm that clobbered the East Coast, but officials warned residents to remain vigilant even as the storm heads into the Atlantic Ocean.

Perhaps New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo put it best when he said, “We’re not out of the woods yet.”

While cities worked to return life to normal, the Long Island Rail Road, which “sustained significant damage during the storm,” remained down, and officials in New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia warned that pooling water could refreeze, complicating Monday morning commutes.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said her city had experienced a “historic snow event” and promised city workers were working aggressively to get roads and services back on track. She asked residents to do their part by using common sense. Before you go out, she warned, decide first if it’s absolutely necessary. It not, stay home,

“Read a book. Watch a movie. That’s our hashtag,” she said.

In Philadelphia, the blizzard warning ended overnight, and the city had more than 400 plows in the street and was scheduled to conclude emergency operations at some point Sunday, said Samantha Phillips, director of the city Office of Emergency Management.

The sun and rising temperatures in some areas Sunday should aid cleanup efforts, but meteorologists continue to worry about ice, and on the New Jersey coast, flooding is a concern as residents watch rising waters.

The storm has killed at least 14 people, grounded thousands of flights and shut down travel in many of the nation’s largest cities.

‘Like a tsunami’

Jason Pellegrini woke up Saturday morning at his home in Sea Isle City, New Jersey, expecting to see flooding. It eventually came.

“I heard commotion out my window and I looked and I saw the raging water,” he said. “It came in to the low-lying areas and it rushed fast.”

The restaurant Pellegrini owns was damaged during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but he says this surge came from the back bay rather than from the ocean.

Coastal flooding remains a big concern for much of New Jersey due to the timing of the storm.

“I expect our town to be under considerable water,” Pellegrini said.

After Sandy, sand dune walls were built to help keep water from flooding ashore.

They worked well during this storm, helping to push back waves that were as high as 20 feet, said Vincent Jones with the Atlantic County Office of Emergency Preparedness.

“They are basically the first line of defense,” he said.

Tide catches residents off guard

Margate City, just down the coast from Atlantic City, was also affected.

“In a lot of our business areas and our back bay areas, water is coming over the bulkhead in a lot of the same areas as Hurricane Sandy hit,” Lt. Matt Hankinson of the Margate City Police Department said. “Some areas I would say it’s thigh- to waist-deep.”

Farther south in North Wildwood, the high tide was much higher than anticipated and caught many of the town’s 5,000 year-round residents off guard — with flooding levels that actually exceeded those during Hurricane Sandy, said Patrick Rosenello, the city’s mayor.

“We had a lot of evacuations, a lot of people who had stayed in their homes not anticipating this, needing to be rescued,” Rosenello said.

Most of the city was without electricity, he said, and the phones at the emergency dispatch center were jammed all day.

“There’s going to have to be major renovations,” Rosenello said.

Only 25,000 households in New Jersey remained without power Sunday morning, roughly a quarter of those reported Saturday night, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said. About 90% of those homes will have power by day’s end, he said.

The transit system and most roadways were reopened, and the governor said only 300 auto accidents were reported during the storm, a low figure given the storm’s severity.


At least 14 people have died as a result of the storm — six in North Carolina, three in Virginia, one in Kentucky, three in New York City and one in Maryland. Officials have cited a higher collective death toll, but CNN has not been able to confirm the individual reports and it’s unclear if all reports of death are related to weather.

Cuomo, the New York governor, and Rawlings-Blake, the Baltimore mayor, said during Sunday morning news conferences that there were additional reports of people dying while shoveling snow.

“Shoveling is an intense aerobic exercise, and it’s easy to become exhausted,” said Baltimore Fire Chief Niles Ford, reminding anyone who is working outside to dress in layers and to go inside frequently to warm up.

Cuomo warned his state’s elderly to be especially careful shoveling snow.

New York’s Central Park, Baltimore’s Thurgood Marshall International Airport and both major airports in Washington all broke daily snowfall records Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the blizzard will almost certainly rank among New York City’s “top five snowstorms” in recorded history in terms of snow accumulation.

“I’ve never seen snow like this,” said Luis Abraham Garcia, a doctoral student from Mexico City, as he trudged along snowy sidewalks with his suitcase.

Traffic a mess

Shepherdstown, West Virginia, got the most snow, with 40.5 inches, the NWS said.

Animals at the National Zoo in Washington saw just above 22 inches during the storm. Tian Tian, the giant panda, seemed to enjoy it.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said equipment arrived Sunday and is being dispatched as workers strive to make major and secondary roads passable. She urged business owners to shovel in front of their buildings and warned that anyone who impedes a plow will be ticketed.

“We need to get our business districts open,” she said.

Washington schools will remain closed Monday, and the city will make a decision on bus and train service sometime Sunday, she said.

Hundreds of motorists faced the storm’s wrath stuck on highways.

Road accidents Friday night caused a 7-mile backup involving around 500 vehicles on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, a state police spokeswoman said.

In central Kentucky, some drivers were stranded along a 35-mile stretch of Interstate 75 for as long as 19 hours, from Friday afternoon to Saturday morning.

And as many as 200 vehicles were stuck on Interstate 77 in West Virginia, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.

Power outages and flight cancellations

As of early Sunday morning, more than 74,000 customers were without power as a result of the storm, most in North Carolina. And 8,569 flights were canceled on Saturday and Sunday, according to flight-tracking service

Mass transit services in Washington and Baltimore were suspended for the weekend, and some Amtrak service to and from the East Coast was canceled or truncated.

A travel ban was in effect on all roads in New York City and Long Island on Saturday, but was lifted at 7 a.m. Sunday.

All roads, bridges, tunnels, buses and airports had reopened, Cuomo said. Trains should return to normal service Sunday afternoon, with the exception of the Long Island Rail Road, which needed work to repair yards and get trains and stations “ready for passengers,” he said.