Town responds to 'historic' blizzard
By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Wed., Feb. 13, 2013
For the South Windsor Public Works Department, the Feb. 8 and 9 blizzard called for nothing short of an all-out battle. “Our guys were here from 7 o'clock Friday night, and finally broke to go home [Sunday] night at 5,” said Director of Public Works Michael Gantick. Crews operated with four hours of sleep Friday night and six on Saturday night.
Despite their strenuous efforts, there was still much for residents to become frustrated about. Snow piled onto street corners or pushed into cul-de-sacs inconvenienced some people, while others found themselves trapped on unplowed roads for an extended amount of time. “Town crews discovered challenges in areas where contract crews didn't do all of the work expected,” noted Chief of Police Matthew Reed in an online announcement.
The town had five extra contractors at the beginning of the storm. They faced numerous problems when their equipment failed to negotiate the heavy demands of the clean-up. “One of our contractors usually has three trucks, and by [Sunday] not one of them was here. They were all broken down or he couldn't get replacement drivers,” Gantick said.
The contractors were not the only ones with equipment problems. At one point, Gantick's force of town and contracted workers was down by eight trucks. Others were broken down for anywhere from a few hours to half a day. Two trucks had broken down permanently. The numerous breakdowns were attributed to the physical demands of the work clearing more than 2 feet of snow, as well as older equipment. Gantick noted that many contractors working well into Friday night spent significant amounts of time stuck or struggling with white-out conditions. Workers would clear an area, and return an hour later to find it undone by wind.
Beginning early Friday, Feb. 8, the blizzard at times dropped snow at a rate of 5 inches an hour with zero visibility. With winds gusting up to 40 mph, many feared South Windsor would lose power. Fortunately, unlike 6,500 CL&P and United Illuminating customers in the southeastern portion of the state, the town maintained power through the storm.
By Saturday afternoon, the blizzard had mostly blown out to sea east of Cape Cod, leaving 2 to 3 feet of snow across Connecticut.
The serious storm conditions prompted Gantick to recommend that the town manager request the assistance of the Connecticut National Guard, but they later learned the Guard was only conducting emergency and rescue operations at the time. Gantick also noted that their help would come too late.
Gantick said clean-up efforts were further deterred when five to six medical assists occurred in town Saturday morning, as well as two to three house structure fires. According to Fire Chief Kevin Cooney, the volunteer fire department did not receive serious calls, but was often called upon to assist ambulances.
“We've assisted the ambulance corps and ASM with some medical calls, trying to provide access to get the patient from their house to the ambulance,” said Cooney. The fire trucks were able to make paths through heavy snow to get ambulances as close as possible to the patient, and on more than once occasion, the fire department's utility truck was used to pull out an ambulance that had gotten stuck.
Cooney did note that on the morning of Monday, Feb. 11, the South Windsor Fire Department was called to a strip mall on Buckland Road across from Evergreen Walk. According to Cooney, there was a problem with rooftop units and the associated gas line, which appeared to be the cause of a reported gas odor. “Within that strip mall building, three businesses were affected: Plato's Closet, Ideal Image and Verizon Wireless,” said Cooney.
Unsure of what exactly the problem was, the gas company, Yankee Gas, and the fire department turned off the gas to the entire building and closed the three stores. “Even though there were no readings, per se, the odor was still there, and so we didn't want to take any chances,” said Cooney.
The property owner hired a contractor to clear snow off the roof with Yankee Gas and to inspect the units. The businesses were operating as usual by the end of the day. According to Cooney, this was a “rather safe than sorry” situation.
As of Feb. 11, crews had cleared priority intersections and brought in payloaders to push back the snow banks and widen the one-lane or one-and-a-half lane roads. “Unfortunately, we're getting snow back into people's driveways, much like what the state is doing. It's frustrating people – they plow their driveways and come home and see more snow,” said Gantick. While he said Public Works personnel don't like having to do this, the staff was working hard in preparation for further weather expected later in the week.
The town also made it a priority to uncover the 700 fire hydrants buried beneath the snow. In an e-mail sent to residents from Cooney and Fire Marshal Walter Summers, residents were asked to clear a three-foot radius around fire hydrants to aid the efforts of the town's contractors. “The last thing I want is a tragedy that could have been averted by town action,” wrote Mayor Thomas Delnicki in a correspondence to town administrators.
“Our troops are doing the best job they can,” said Gantick. “We're really proud of the effort they've done. They've really pulled together.”