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Budget-busting winter storm takes final shot at Northeast

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

BOSTON -- The Northeast struggled to dig out Tuesday from a paralyzing storm that unloaded up to 4 feet of snow, busted city snow-removal budgets and stranded thousands of people at airports up and down the East Coast.

The storm, blamed for 37 deaths, finally headed out to sea after taking a parting shot at Boston, which got an all-time record of 27.5 inches by the time the snow stopped falling Tuesday morning.

Homeowners and motorists dug out their cars and doorways and toiled to reopen driveways that had been sealed shut by passing snowplows.

"What can you do?" said 38-year-old Brian Shipley of Rockville, Md., standing waist-deep in the mini-canyon he had shoveled in the path to his door. "You dig out and you get ready for tomorrow."

A few blocks away, acupuncturist Cindy Clark foresaw a lot of sore backs. "There's going to be more work than I can handle for a long time," she said, leaning against a shovel in her almost cleared driveway.

Major airports labored to resume service after the biggest snowstorm to hit the Northeast in seven years.

Boston's Logan International had only about 25 takeoffs and landings an hour, compared with 80 to 90 during a typical weekday. Baltimore-Washington International opened one runway for takeoffs Tuesday morning and the first arriving flight in 2 1/2 days landed during the afternoon.

Going nowhere

Thousands of people expecting to fly home from vacations were stranded at airports in Florida. With Northern airports still catching up Tuesday, airlines could not meet the demand.

"As US Airways explained to us, everyone's going nowhere fast," David Kiley said at Baltimore-Washington, keeping watch over a half-dozen 9- and 10-year-olds in wheelchairs who had flown from Charlotte, N.C., to Washington for a basketball tournament. They had spent two nights in a motel.

The storm spread snow from the Plains to New England, caused floods and power outages, and closed schools from West Virginia to Massachusetts. Federal offices remained closed Tuesday in Washington; they had been closed on Monday for Presidents Day.

Because the snowstorm struck on the long holiday weekend and during midwinter vacation week for many schoolchildren, traffic was lighter than usual and plowing was easier.

"This has been one of those storms where things could go either way, and it's gone the right way every time for us," said Peter Judge, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. "It was sort of Murphy's Law in reverse."

Boston's accumulation beat even the legendary Blizzard of 1978, when 27.1 inches of snow fell. But this storm did not pack nearly the punch. During the Blizzard of '78, hurricane-force wind created snowdrifts so big that thousands of drivers simply abandoned their cars. Ninety-nine deaths were blamed on the storm.

This snowstorm brought the fourth-heaviest accumulation on record for New York City -- 19.8 inches in Central Park. And for the region as a whole, it was the worst snowstorm since the Blizzard of 1996, blamed for at least 80 deaths.

For state and city governments, clearing away all that snow was a monumental headache.

Maryland's State Highway Administration was already $14 million over budget before the Presidents Day storm, which Gov. Robert Ehrlich estimated had cost the state an additional $20 million to $30 million.

Fairfield, Conn., budgeted about $200,000 for snow removal this season but already had spent $500,000 before the arrival of this storm, which cost at least $100,000, First Selectman Kenneth Flatto said.

The storm is expected to cost cash-strapped New Jersey about $10 million.

"We had a snow budget of $15 million," said Jack Lettiere, New Jersey's acting transportation commissioner. "And we had spent $30 million before this storm even started."

Some people took this storm in stride.

"I love this stuff," Adrienne Bates, 35, of New Haven, Conn., said as she walked to work Tuesday at Yale University. "It's about time we had a decent snowstorm."

Angelo Antidormi, 54, a restaurateur who immigrated from Italy, said as he shoveled his driveway in Boston: "I survived worse things. After the war in Italy, you eat one potato a year, you know."

Weather-related deaths included two in Illinois, one in Nebraska, five in Pennsylvania, seven in West Virginia, six in Missouri, one in Ohio, two in Virginia, four in Maryland, one in New Jersey, one in Connecticut, two in New York City, one in Tennessee and four in Iowa. A 12-year-old boy was missing in a swollen stream in Tennessee.


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