Town of Manchester responds to 'historic' blizzard

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Thu., Feb. 14, 2013
Workers cleared the parking lots of Buckland Hills mall with payloaders, leaving massive piles in their wake. Photos by Christian Mysliwiec.
Workers cleared the parking lots of Buckland Hills mall with payloaders, leaving massive piles in their wake. Photos by Christian Mysliwiec.

Beginning early Friday, Feb. 8, what is being dubbed "the blizzard of 2013" at times dropped snow at a rate of 5 inches an hour with zero visibility. With winds gusting up to 40 mph, many feared Manchester 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, with the exception of 1,200 CL&P customers who were briefly without power when a transformer on Adams Street broke.

By Saturday afternoon, the blizzard had mostly blown out to sea east of Cape Cod, leaving 2 to 3 feet of snow across Connecticut.

“I thought the town response was great,” said Mayor Leo Diana. “We had to use every vehicle available. We used front-loaders because the plows were getting stuck.” With such a heavy volume of snow, the strain on Public Works equipment was immense, he said. “But everyone chipped in,” Diana added.

Some residents were understandably frustrated during the blizzard and in its aftermath. “Most of the responses from people were understanding, but we still got some people complaining that their street wasn't done,” said Diana. “Well, some of the crews had to be taken off whatever their assignment was to go to an emergency response.” With more than 30 emergency calls occurring during the storm – which included a birth and two deaths in town – crews were often called to assist emergency vehicles and create paths so that responders had access to patients.

According to Director of Public Works Mark Carlino, the volume of emergency calls significantly increased Saturday morning. “We worked with fire rescue and EMS through radio dispatch, and whenever they were getting a call for medical assistance, we were trying to relocate some of our snow plows and payloaders in order to assist fire trucks and ambulances to assist with patients,” said Carlino.

While the town's Public Works Department aggressively combated the snow, Diana made it clear that the clean-up effort would involve the cooperation of residents. “We wanted to send the message out to people to stay off the streets and be patient with the crews,” said Diana. If people had nowhere to go, they were urged to remain at home and give crews an opportunity to work unimpeded. As of Tuesday, Feb. 12, crews were still working to clear out Main Street, and a parking ban had been in effect until Wednesday, Feb. 13.

“Our focus Monday, Tuesday and [Wednesday] has been widening the roads and improving visibility coming out of intersections,” said Carlino. With some four-lane roads significantly narrowed, regaining lane width was a high priority.

Throughout the week, the objective of crews was to widen streets and make them more passable, and clearing up sight lines. “In some places the snow is piled so high you can't see,” said Diana.

Light rain and warm weather helped crews clear the snow after Monday. In light of the respite, Diana called upon residents to clear their sidewalks as well.

While unprecedented in its snowfall totals, the blizzard has helped town administrators realize areas in need of improvement for future situations. According to Diana, the primary focus will be on the town's equipment. “We're going to look at equipment, that will be our priority,” he said. “Staffing is a hot potato – it's a budget item.” Positions in Public Works have not been filled in the past years, and with sustained budgetary concerns, Diana does not expect they will be soon.

“We have less people than we had 10 years ago,” said Diana. The crews were strained to meet the demands the blizzard presented – when workers needed to sleep, there were no alternate crews to send out. While there are fewer workers, the department does have more – and better – equipment, and assessing the equipment needs will be the next step following the clean-up.

Carlino was pleased with the response of Public Works, given the situation, and believes that when some normalcy returns to Manchester, then they will look into how they can do better in the future. “I was happy with our response based on the significance of the storm,” he said. “With that being said, we're constantly looking for ways in which we can improve our response, whether it's different equipment or different approaches.”

Overall, Diana was pleased with the town's response. “I think we weathered it well under the circumstances, compared to other towns,” he said. “I'm very proud of how our Public Works Department responded.”

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