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New mayor shows she's a quick study on snow emergency

Fewer than 48 hours after being sworn as Baltimore's new mayor, Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake found herself grappling with her first citywide emergency - a snowstorm that dumped 2 feet of wet, heavy snow on city streets, paralyzing travel, snapping trees and collapsing at least two roofs.

Rawlings-Blake, who until Thursday had been City Council president, showed she could be a quick study in mayoral leadership. She monitored the storm and worked the telephones at the city's bustling emergency operations center until 1 a.m. Saturday, then returned by midmorning for a briefing on what had happened overnight.

The briefing gave her confidence to say the city was "doing very well," considering the snow was still falling and city plows and salt trucks were laboring just to clear major thoroughfares.

"We can't even talk recovery until the snow stops," she said in a brief interview after her morning briefing. "And that's not going to be until this evening. What will be helpful is if people have patience and understand that we have to focus on the main roads, the main thoroughfares. Then we'll get to the secondary roads."

Rawlings-Blake's first crisis after taking office was a police officer shot the night she was sworn in. The weather promised some respite from the city's violence. But while shootings might decrease, calls from stranded motorists and others in need of help were pouring in. Rawlings-Blake emphasized that police, fire and ambulance crews had answered every one of more than 600 emergency calls overnight Friday

Still, she worried that as the day wore on, emergency vehicles were having a harder time getting around because of a proliferation of abandoned vehicles blocking partially cleared streets.

Echoing public appeals of elected officials across the state, Rawlings-Blake urged city residents to stay indoors.

"Read a book, watch a movie, call a friend," she urged Baltimoreans.

Then, outfitted with a black Office of Emergency Management cap, she ventured up partially plowed streets to the city's salt depot on Falls Road to brief the news media and thank road crews for their labors to catch up with the still-falling snow. Afterward, she said she planned to spend much of the rest of the day indoors herself, calling neighborhood leaders to take the pulse of conditions around the city.

"We can see what we can see on the cameras, on the TV shows," she said. "I want to be able to talk [to neighborhood leaders] to make sure we're not missing anything."

Asked when the city might be able to start moving again, she shied away from making any predictions.

"This is a long one," she said. "This is, I'm hearing, an unprecedented snowstorm. So it's going to take an unprecedented effort and an equal amount of patience."

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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