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Marylanders on unplowed streets go from frustrated to angry

Many Baltimore residents remain snowed in and waiting for their street to be plowed. (Baltimore Sun video)

It's not that Grace Mudrick hasn't seen any plows since the snow stopped falling Saturday night. She's seen them, repeatedly scraping Northern Parkway clean.

But her street, Woodcrest Avenue, just blocks to the north of that Baltimore thoroughfare, remains snowed-in and unplowed.

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"What's the point of going up and down Northern Parkway?" the Mount Washington woman asked. "I would literally have to push my car through 30 inches of snow three and a half blocks to get there."

What began as annoyance over streets going unplowed after the weekend's record-breaking snowfall is increasingly turning into anger and even fear. Residents say they worry that first responders won't be able to get to them in an emergency. They point to a fire on an impassable street in Highlandtown on Monday night that displaced at least five families. No one was injured.

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Mudrick is a consultant who hasn't been able to get to her office in Owings Mills. On Tuesday, she said she saw a frightening scene: an elderly neighbor being taken away on a sled by firefighters who seemed to have walked through a neighborhood park to get to her street.

"I couldn't even see where their truck was," she said. Several surrounding streets around her own also appeared to have been unplowed.

"What is the plan?" Mudrick asked. "Don't tell me to be patient. Is there a map with a schedule of when streets are going to be plowed?"

Officials have given only a vague explanation of how they determine the order of plowing. They say proximity to schools and calls to police, fire and 311 are factors.

"The reason why there isn't a public list," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said, "is at any minute that list can change."

For example, the Highlandtown fire prompted a quick redirection of equipment.

City officials also refused to offer a timeline for when they would complete plowing operations. But Baltimore Fire Chief Niles R. Ford promised residents that in an emergency "we will get to you."

Throughout the city and region, residents said local governments should have been more prepared for the blizzard, quicker to clear residential streets and more forthcoming with the public.

Kristin Yakas faulted Howard County for not making a broad sweep across as many residential roads as possible before devoting more time on a more thorough plow.

When a plow arrived on her Ellicott City street — Cabery Road, just off Old Frederick Road — the driver took about 40 minutes, she said, taking multiple passes back and forth over a third of a mile.

She noted that the county pledged in a Facebook post to give each residential street and cul-de-sac a once-over and then return to make a second, more complete plow.

"I don't think it follows the protocol they said they were following," she said. "There are other neighborhood streets that are waiting."

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Brook Hubbard and his neighbors on Tilted Stone in Columbia got so fed up waiting that a group of eight or nine decided to shovel themselves out.

After working two hours but making little progress, Hubbard fired off an angry email to county and state officials and media outlets.

Howard is one of the wealthiest, and most highly taxed jurisdictions in the country, said Hubbard, a warehouse supervisor and community activist. Its residents should receive better service.

Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman asked residents for continued patience. He pledged to finish plowing neighborhood streets by late Tuesday. Residents who wake up Wednesday with snow still covering their streets should call the county.

"We have had all of our equipment on the road every day since the start of the storm and expect to have all neighborhood streets completed tonight," Kittleman posted on Facebook on Tuesday. "If it appears that your road was skipped or only partially completed, it may be that a front loader or other equipment is necessary to make your road passable."

Kittleman said county crews and contractors have been out in full force continuously since the historic snowfall started. The storm dumped 29 inches in parts of the county with drifts as high as 8 feet, he said.

Drivers have worked 15- to 16-hour days to clear the county's more than 1,000 miles of roadway, and Kittleman said some roads may inadvertently be missed.

The county finished plowing primary and secondary roads Sunday and began residential and dead-end streets early Monday.

Road clearing efforts remained underway throughout the area, and schools will be closed again on Wednesday.

In Carroll County heavy-duty equipment, including front loaders and dump trucks, was rolling around Carroll's 42 school buildings to clear bus loops, parking lots and pathways.

In Baltimore, schools chief operating officer Keith Scroggins said workers had been unable to get full access to 40 schools because the roads leading up to them had not yet been plowed.

Thirty thousand city students take MTA buses to school. Until full service is restored, Scroggins said, the schools cannot reopen.

Another 25,000 students walk to school, and the sidewalks must be cleared so students do not have to walk in the streets.

City Councilman Robert W. Curran of Northeast Baltimore said his office has sent the administration hundreds of requests asking that streets be cleared, including repeated requests on behalf of residents with critical needs.

"The whole area is slammed," he said.

Ryan Frank, a lawyer for the Department of Veterans Affairs who lives in Baltimore's Broadway East neighborhood, said he tried to be patient. But more than three days after the end of the snowfall, he said, his block of Rutland Avenue just south of North Avenue is a mess.

Some neighbors shoveled out channels to drive their cars out, saving the spaces with a plywood barrier, he said, and there are mounds of snow in the middle of the street.

He worried that the family cats would run out of food until a FedEx driver parked on North Avenue and walked down Rutland to deliver the heavy box of food he'd ordered.

Residents say the city's online 311 service has been little help.

"It seems to be a black hole," Mudrick said.

She is one of several Baltimoreans who have been posting pictures of their snow-blanketed, clogged streets and of shovel-bearing brigades clearing entire blocks by hand on social media.

Whether the public shaming quickened the pace of the plowing was unclear. Some expressed outrage when the city said it would begin enforcing the sidewalk-clearing ordinance on Tuesday, charging $50 to homeowners and $100 to businesses owners who leave their areas unshoveled.

Many pointed out that they had indeed cleared their sidewalks even when the city hadn't cleared their streets.

City officials say they are doing what they can to remove the record snowfall, with some 1,400 pieces of equipment operating around the clock.

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Howard Libit, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, said the city faces logistical challenges on some streets: Many are narrow, cars are parked along the curbs or, in some cases, stranded vehicles have blocked roadways.

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Jeremy Doehnert said he understands what the city is up against. A plow came down his street, the 2200 block of Bank St. in Upper Fells Point, he said, but then got stuck. A further effort succeeded only in creating a roughly 5-foot tall mountain in the middle of the street.

"We kept seeing cars come down the street, and then having to back out," he said.

Finally, Doehnert said, he and a half-dozen neighbors started chipping away at the mountain on Tuesday and were able to clear the street.

Even with more than 700 Maryland National Guard soldiers and personnel helping with response efforts, the snow is winning in some places.

"Some streets we can't even get entry into," said Pvt. 1st Class Jason Schollenberger. His Humvee got stuck when he tried to jump a mound of snow pushed into the middle of a street.

But there have been happier moments as well. Spec. James Shaw transported a woman he knew only as "Big Mama" from dialysis treatment Monday night to her home in Brooklyn. Word had gotten around the neighborhood that she was back, and his vehicle quickly became part of a welcome-home parade.

"We had kids following the Humvee," Shaw said. "It was kind of fun."

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Colin Campbell, Liz Bowie, Tim Prudente, Jessica Anderson and Michel Elben contributed to this article.

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