Blizzard dumps two feet of snow on region

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Region - posted Mon., Feb. 11, 2013
A row of parked cars is barely visible under the snowdrifts on Voluntown's Church Street. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
A row of parked cars is barely visible under the snowdrifts on Voluntown's Church Street. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

A massive dose of snow – upwards of 24 inches in the Griswold area – meant major headaches for residents and municipalities alike in terms of snow removal. But despite the hassles of digging out from the Feb. 8-9 blizzard, residents were grateful that power outages were, for the most part, kept to a minimum.

Norwich Director of Public Works Barry Ellison said Monday afternoon that all the city’s streets were passable with at least one useable lane, but that crews were continuing work to clear additional lanes and sidewalks. The city had hired an outside contractor to remove snow from downtown with snow blowers and dump trucks, he said. Virtually the entire NDPW staff worked for 34 straight hours in the teeth of the storm, from Friday through Saturday, and started a shift at 3 a.m. Monday to continue the snow removal effort, he said.

Ellison said that snowplows were occasionally pulled off assigned routes to clear the way for fire or ambulance calls, or to provide access for Norwich Public Utilities to sagging power lines. “It’s a good team effort. We’re happy to help when life and death is at stake,” he said.

Ellison said that some city streets were still “just a mess” on Monday, especially those with on-street parking, which impeded snowplows. “It will take days or weeks to clean that out,” he said.

Norwich Public Utilities dodged the bullet, for the most part, in terms of power outages. Communications Manager Mike Hughes said that only 750 of the city’s 22,000 customers lost power during the storm, and most outages lasted less than two hours. Crews working to restore the last holdouts, at Sunny Waters Trailer Park on Old Canterbury Turnpike, were hampered by high winds that prevented the use of bucket trucks, he said.

“We were cautiously optimistic” going into the storm, said Hughes. High winds from hurricane Sandy and last month’s wind storm had already brought down most weakened branches, he said. In addition, “we’re aggressive with our tree-trimming. We know where the trouble spots are and we get to them.”

Not a single Jewett City Power customer lost power during the storm, said Director Ken Sullivan. “We’re very, very pleased with the performance of our infrastructure,” he said. Prior to the storm, town and borough officials held a civil preparedness meeting to plan a coordinated storm response, he said. In addition, the utility’s fleet had been tanked up with gas and stocked with a full supply of parts, materials and freshly-sharpened chainsaws, he said.

“Though it’s a huge mess out there, we fared better than we expected,” said Griswold First Selectman Phil Anthony. Griswold reported a total of 95 power outages; by Saturday evening the number had shrunk to 30, and all residents were back online by Sunday, he said. Public works crews started sanding roads prior to the storm on Friday and continued plowing during and after the storm.

Anthony said that crews would begin working to clear Main Street sidewalks at 11 p.m. Monday evening. “They’ll be working all night until [Tuesday] morning,” he said. The snowy walks “are a severe hardship for Main Street businesses,” he said.

Since President Barack Obama declared Connecticut a federal disaster area, Anthony said that the town would be applying for whatever recovery funds will be available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The funds could be used to reimburse the costs of equipment and overtime for city workers and state troopers, he said.

The storm spelled a booming business for snowplow driver Robert Cassidy, of Griswold, who stopped at Chucky’s in Voluntown Saturday at dusk to fill up his truck's gas tank before heading out to plow another half-dozen of his customers’ driveways. “That’s if I don’t get stuck,” he said. At one of his jobs Saturday, his truck did get stuck, and “a guy came with his tractor and pulled me out,” he said. “There’s a lot more snow [than usual]. It’s harder to push.”

For sledders at Jewett City’s Veterans Memorial Park, though, fun was the order of the day. The sloping hillsides were polished to a high gloss by dozens of avid sledders, giving the park the look of a mini ski resort. Noah White took his 4-year-old daughter, Emma, on her first-ever sled ride Sunday. Emma gave the experience an emphatic thumbs-up. “It felt a little bumpy, but I really love it. I want to do it again,” she said.

Three generations of the Derosier-Tandetzke family traveled to the park from nearby Scotland, following a friend’s recommendation for good sledding. Even the family’s “Meme,” Rita Tandetzke, age 72, took a ride down the hill, said her son, Jeff. “You’re never too old,” said Theresa Derosier. “You can’t breathe when you get to the top, but you’re never too old.”


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