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January 12, 2011
NYC declares weather emergency ahead of second blizzard
The New York Post
NEW YORK — Mayor Bloomberg is taking no chances with this storm.
With a foot of snow on the horizon, the city declared a weather emergency, plows and salters sprung into action across the Big Apple and the MTA went into crisis mode as part of an all-out effort to avoid the catastrophic failures of the Christmas-weekend blizzard.
"[Today's] commute is not going to be easy," Bloomberg admitted yesterday. "You can sit there and say, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry,' or you can get out and get a shovel and get to work."
The mayor, whose plane was in Bermuda the day plans were being botched for the holiday blizzard, last night issued a "winter emergency declaration," which, unlike a snow emergency, urges the public to avoid unnecessary driving instead of forbidding it.
All cars blocking streets will be towed, and the city suspended alternate-side parking, parking-meter fees and garbage collection.
The quick decision to declare the emergency stood in stark contrast to events preceding the Dec. 26-27 storm, when city officials failed to do so.
The Sanitation Department e-mailed members of the City Council yesterday; one day after the council's hearing into the mishandling of the earlier storm - alerting them to the decision.
Two veteran legislators said it was the first time they could recall the city notifying the council about a weather emergency.
The city's planned show of force included:
* Plows from the Sanitation, Transportation, Parks and Environmental Protection departments, which began attacking streets shortly after snow started falling.
* Private contractors with 200 front-end loaders, backhoes and Bobcats clearing secondary and tertiary streets from 7 a.m.
* Laborers told to manually clear snow from the intersections of primary and secondary streets after they were plowed.
* Five teams of "snow scouts" in 4-wheel-drive vehicles with hand-held camcorders, looking for unplowed streets that need attention.
But even with the preparations, the timing of the storm - with the heaviest snow expected just before the morning rush - left top brass feeling less than confident.
"I think the way that snow is going to come down, particularly just before daybreak, there are going to be streets that have not been plowed," Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty said.
He added that it's possible those streets "may have been plowed earlier in the storm, but the snow came down and they don't look like they were plowed."
Those are not comforting words to residents of East Seventh Street in Winsdor Terrace, Brooklyn, who were trapped for days by an unplowed street the last time.
John Torrillo, 60, is still shoveling snow from that blizzard.
"It was Bloomberg's error. The left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing," he said.
"I'll be here shoveling, because there's lot of elderly people on this block. You've got to do it yourself. You've got to come out and bang it out."
Bloomberg warned Sanitation workers that the public would be watching their every move - making sure there were no slowdowns, as alleged last time.
"The Sanitation workers understand there will be people watching them because of the publicity," Bloomberg said. "People are going to be looking more carefully, and they'll work harder."
The feds and local officials are investigating whether workers intentionally botched the last cleanup to protest budget and job cuts.
Bloomberg also pleaded with residents yesterday to not call 911 unless there is a real emergency, hoping to avoid the disastrous 1,300-call backlog last time.
There will be other accommodations for ambulances, too, many of which got stuck last time.
Every EMS station will get chains to put on ambulances, supervisors' SUVs will be equipped with tow cables to free emergency vehicles in a pinch, and a 12-hour tour was instituted last night. That placed 236 ambulances on the road instead of the usual 144.
Sources said that if there's a delay to a serious 911 call, the NYPD's elite Emergency Service Units will also respond.
Meanwhile, the storm started wreaking havoc with air-travel havoc before snow even hit the ground. More than 400 flights were canceled at the three major area airports yesterday. As of last night, more than 350 were already called off for today and most this morning were expected to be cancelled.
Getting around the city by mass transit might be difficult. Transit bosses conceded that rush-hour train and bus service could be affected, as they declared the highest-level winter precautions.
The 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 and A lines may run locally. Service on the B line ended two hours early last night because of the weather.
And MTA chiefs said they'll shut down portions of subway and bus routes if the snow gets above 13 inches.
Metro-North will be on a Sunday schedule today. The LIRR suspended service last night east of Speonk and Ronkonkoma, and could suspend service on other branches today. NJ Transit plans to operate a regular weekday schedule.
Transit officials also put into place new guidelines regarding passengers in abandoned trains - sparked by incidents during the recent blizzard where hundreds of riders were stuck in three elevated A trains near the Rockaways for seven hours or more.
About 1,000 buses, 18 percent of the fleet, will be outfitted with chains, officials said.
The Sanitation Department historically has had little trouble clearing away snowfall less than 12 inches, the high end of forecasts for today.
The worst of the storm was expected to hit overnight, with an inch of snow an hour predicted at its height. Lighter snow was forecast for this afternoon, with drifts piling up due to gusts, said AccuWeather meteorologist Carl Erickson.