The mail gets through despite a few slip-ups


They've been slipping into ditches, falling on sidewalks, raising an assortment of bruises and strapping spikes to their shoes for traction. And in most cases, they've managed to deliver the mail.

Even while the rest of the federal government took a weather holiday in Washington yesterday, letter carriers trudged, slid, slipped and tumbled their way through another day's work on the ice rink that much of Maryland has become.

There were complaints from some customers, but U.S. Postal Service supervisors say it appears that most of the mail got through yesterday even as mail trucks stalled in severe cold and letter carriers stepped gingerly over snow-covered ice.

"This is the worst I've ever seen it," said Michael Boggs, postmaster at Reisterstown, where the post office serves about 10,000 customers in town and on rural routes. Ninety percent of them have gotten their mail over the past three days, Mr. Boggs said.

That's a better record than that of Maryland as a whole. Statewide, mail deliveries were off by nearly half Tuesday and Wednesday, said Patricia Mank, a spokeswoman for the post office in downtown Baltimore. Deliveries were suspended along the most treacherous routes, and in some cases letter carriers were slowed by ice and simply couldn't finish their rounds by dusk, as the regulations require.

"It's been rough going and treacherous" said Postmaster Alfred M. Fowler in Columbia, where he sent two carriers out in each truck or jeep instead of the usual one so that they can help each other in an emergency.

"Our biggest concern is safety -- both for the customer and for the carriers," said John Hyater, the postmaster in Savage, Howard County.

Since Tuesday, Ms. Mank said, letter carriers have filed 10 injury reports, including four serious cases involving fractures and a concussion from a fall.

"I've never seen it this bad, where you couldn't walk," said Darryl Kelly, an eight-year Postal Service veteran who delivers mail in Pasadena. By midday yesterday, Mr. Kelly had fallen three times and had a sore knee and back.

"Many of our carriers have slipped and fallen," said George Norberg, supervisor of customer service at the Annapolis post office, where about three-quarters of the mail was being delivered. "Bruised and battered is a good way to put it."

Mail carriers returned from the front lines with some harrowing tales.

On his route in Cape St. John for the Annapolis post office, carrier Norman Sutton tried to drive his truck up an icy hill but slid sideways into a ditch. He had to summon a tow truck to pull the mail truck out.

In West River in southern Anne Arundel County, mail deliveries were suspended along one route when a carrier kept slipping into a roadside drainage ditch.

Letter carrier Dave Riden, tying spikes to the bottom of his shoes as he stood near his jeep in Crofton, seemed to have hit on a solution to the traction problem. He said a customer gave him the spikes, which were designed for aerating lawns.

"When I saw them, I thought, 'awesome.' I'm going to try and get some for myself."

Some customers complained about missing their mail, but postal officials said most customers seemed sympathetic.

"The customers in Reisterstown have been super," Mr. Boggs said. "I've had very few calls from people who didn't understand."

The post office in East Baltimore got two angry calls yesterday from Elmer Eliason, who complained that the walk and steps outside his rowhouse had been shoveled but that he nevertheless got no mail on Tuesday and Wednesday.

After getting no satisfaction from the post office the first time, the 75-year-old Mr. Eliason said, he called the state attorney general's office, which referred him back to the post office.

About noon yesterday, a mail carrier showed up and delivered all of his mail. Was Mr. Eliason satisfied?

"No, I'm not," he said. "It leaves a lot to be desired."

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