Clearing the decks
Area is in for another day of limited mobility and the prospect of yet another storm
Baltimoreans dig out after a record two-day snowfall: Chris Ward, right, wielding a snow blower that he and two neighbors purchased together, helps his other neighbors, using hand shovels and another snow blower, to clear the 200 block of East Lake Avenue in North Baltimore. (Baltimore Sun / February 7, 2010)
With highways and most major thoroughfares cleared of snow, plows and salt trucks across the Baltimore area labored to open neighborhood streets, rural roads and cul-de-sacs. Local officials cautioned, though, that it might be late today or even Tuesday before they manage to reach those who are still snowbound. And travel remained treacherous at times even on the interstates, with cars and at least one snowplow skidding out on slick patches that still exist on plowed pavement.
Possibly easing a commuter's nightmare today, schools were canceled across the region, and state and local governments are either closed or have declared liberal leave for their employees. The federal government also was to be closed today, as was Maryland's General Assembly.
There were some signs of life returning to normal. For those who could get out, most major malls were open Sunday afternoon - sort of. Few customers were at the Mall in Columbia, where the big anchors were open but dozens of stores were closed. Of those customers who showed up, many had walked from nearby homes to break the boredom of being snowed in. One child and his mother rode the carousel.
Cars on normally busy city arteries, such as Reisterstown and York roads, shared the street with pedestrians who couldn't get to their cars but were too afflicted with cabin fever to stay home. Neighbors took walks, pulling babies along on sleds. Kids turned the snow into their own personal playgrounds, jumping from snow mounds several feet high, climbing into homemade igloos and throwing snowballs at unsuspecting friends.
"People are starting to get a little antsy; they're cooped up," acknowledged Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, whose road crews were struggling with the deepest snowfall in the state. "But they need to be patient - it's going to take a couple days to get to every street."
Transit service was gradually returning, with more expected today. Air travel remained iffy. Many Amtrak trains were canceled or sold out Sunday, and Greyhound buses remained idle.
Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. had restored power to most people by Sunday evening, with 9,491 still in the dark about 6 p.m. Power outages remained more widespread in the Washington suburbs, particularly Montgomery County.
Officials appealed to residents to exercise prudence, as authorities reported three deaths in Prince George's County over the weekend from suspected carbon monoxide poisoning. Maryland Shock Trauma Center treated and released eight patients Saturday for symptoms of poisoning by the odorless gas, which tends to collect in homes and vehicles when they are not adequately ventilated.
Baltimore County road chief Tim Burgess said smaller, less powerful plows were unable to budge the 28 inches of snow that have piled up in some neighborhoods. But officials are reluctant to send larger trucks down narrow residential streets for fear of pushing the snow up against parked cars and damaging them, he said.
In Baltimore, Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, said crews hope to plow and salt neighborhood streets through Sunday night. But O'Doherty urged city dwellers and downtown workers to use public transportation as much as possible today, and he said the mayor had called on neighborhood leaders to enlist residents in shoveling out bus stops.
Bus service, about 20 percent restored by Sunday, was expected to continue recovering, according to the Maryland Transit Administration. Light rail, which started up on Sunday, was expecting full service today. Metro, operating only underground over the weekend, was aiming to get to Owings Mills.
MARC commuter rail service will operate on a holiday schedule on the Penn Line today, but there will be no service on the Brunswick or Camden lines and no commuter bus service.
Amtrak trains were operating on a much-reduced schedule, with 13 northbound trains through Baltimore and 10 southbound trains canceled Sunday.
State government is operating today on a liberal-leave policy. The General Assembly cancellation was the first since the Presidents Day snowstorm in 2003.
Anne Arundel County government offices were to be closed, with only essential personnel expected to report to work, while other local governments opted for at least liberal leave. Baltimore City offices were to be open, though employees have the liberal-leave option.
As residents began to dig out from what the National Weather Service finally declared officially was a blizzard, according to Baltimore- Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport observations, it became clear that the storm carried more serious consequences than a temporary loss of mobility or power over the weekend.
According to Prince George's County fire spokesman Mark Brady, paramedics found a man in cardiac arrest in a car Saturday in Greenbelt. The man, Thomas Michael Jones, 55, was a cabdriver who had lost power in his home early Saturday, according to his sister, Karen Beuchel of Elkridge. She speculated that he might have attempted to keep warm in his car. The state medical examiner's office said it had yet to perform an autopsy. Two men in their 20s also were found dead in a car in Bladensburg early Sunday, according to Sgt. Tracy Stone, in what police said were "initial indications" of carbon monoxide poisoning. An investigation is continuing.
A spokeswoman for Union Memorial Hospital reported an "unusually high number of snowblower-related injuries" Sunday afternoon. Debra Schindler said the hospital's emergency department reported eight injuries in a three-hour period. She said many of the injuries involved hands.