Blizzard buries Stratford, snow removal a challenge

Cars buried in snow, such as this one on Soundview Avenue, were a common sight in Stratford after a blizzard dumped nearly 3 feet of snow on town. (Karen Reid Photo)

Three days after the Feb. 8 blizzard named Nemo dropped more than 30 inches of snow on Stratford and Mayor John A. Harkins had declared a state of emergency, residents grew impatient as some roads were still not plowed. At the same time the mayor was explaining that street plowing was proceeding as fast as possible.

It took time to clear the snow because of the “sheer volume and weight of the snow,” said the mayor’s chief of staff, Marc Dillon. “No one around here can remember getting this much snow except for the blizzard of ’78.”

In 1978 the snow fell over a couple of days, so plows were better able to keep up, Harkins said.

“This situation had one big dump at once,” he said, “and when it got real heavy and whiteout conditions, we had to take the plows off the roads during [Friday] evening. All towns do that.”

For this storm, Harkins said, payloaders, which have large shovels in front that lift, had to be used to help the plows move on roads.

“We own four payloaders and we had 19 on hand from our contractors,” he said, but additional payloaders were not available from other towns or from the state.

Harkins said the town is responsible for about 825 roads.

“Just think,” Dillon said, “if it takes three to five times as long to clear around your house (compared to a typical snowfall), it’s going to take the town the same amount of time to clean up around town.”

From when the storm started Friday afternoon to early this week, every piece of road clearing equipment was on the road, along with heavy equipment that the town had hired from area contractors. On Monday, two full days after the storm, more than 40% of roads had not been plowed by the town, according to Dillon. Harkins said the state was delayed getting to Stratford to clear the state routes that it is responsible for, including routes 108, 110 and 113, because of all the work state crews had to do on major highways.

Throughout the aftermath of the storm, every piece of heavy equipment available was in use around the clock to clear roads, according to Dillon.  Work crews were rotated as a safety precaution.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy visited Stratford on Monday, which resulted in a payloader arriving on Tuesday to assist, according to the mayor.
By Tuesday afternoon the mayor committed to having all roads passable by the end of the day.

Residents’ voices and medical emergencies

Residents whose streets were not yet plowed by the town on Monday starting complaining on, on Facebook postings and in letters to the editor. One was frustrated by a lack of information on road plowing. Another blamed any problems on the form of government in town. Yet another expressed concern for those who might need emergency medical attention.

The worry about residents in need of care did not escape town officials. Dillon explained, “Our emergency plan for anyone who needed to get urgent care included having a plow assigned to each emergency vehicle” that was called to duty. “There were a number of calls for emergencies, but we (police, fire and EMS) got through to them all,” according to the chief of staff.

Harkins said he was hearing both complaints and compliments during the recovery period. “It was mixed. People understand we got hit by a blizzard.  They cannot have expected,” he said, that everything would be back to normal right away.

Dillon noted one successful emergency response where Public Works employee Marco Lopez transported a pregnant woman to Bridgeport Hospital so that the baby could be born there.

Another part of the emergency plan, said Dillon, is that the town Health Department has a list of the infirm or those with a disability who may be more likely to need assistance, “and they have been checking on those people.”

As of late Tuesday, the mayor said he was pleased to report that there had been no major injuries or fatalities resulting directly from the blizzard.

Dillon added that there were “no major issues with law enforcement during the early week recovery.

“The department has been fully staffed and responding to calls,” said the chief of staff.

Assessing the response

“Our only disappointment is that we have not been able to clear all the roads sooner,” Dillon said.

“This was a natural disaster,” Harkins said. “There is no cookie cutter plan [that would have prevented the delays in getting to all the streets].

We did everything we could with the situation at hand, including gearing up for power outages and flooding,” both of which took manpower and resources to prepare for. “It was a tough situation, and I get it, especially for children and the elderly.  There are lots of moving parts, and it was more than just moving snow. Other things pop up and resources have to be shifted,” like taking care of residents in an emergency.

“Thank God we did not have power outages and there was no surge of floodwater at the shore,” Harkins added. “And the good news is we had lots of neighbors helping neighbors.”

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