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Some roads may not be plowed till Sunday, state calls for volunteers

Updated 12:09 am, Tuesday, February 12, 2013
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The state on Monday began to release private contractors who had been working on state highways and other roads so they could help remove snow in struggling cities, such as Bridgeport, according to Department of Transportation officials.
The DOT is deploying 200 private plow truck drivers to augment its 1,179 full-time drivers.
The state owns 632 plow trucks and plows 5,700 miles of roadways.

Inside
Metro-North expects to be at 90 percent of normal for Tuesday morning rush hour. A3

Online
Updates on the region's recovery efforts at www.ctpost.com

By Monday the streets of Bridgeport resembled the site of the world's largest snowball fight.

Fog filled the sky over monstrous snow banks. Cars lurched and fishtailed through trench-like streets. Residents trudged up and down the middle of roads, looking like refugees.

"This," declared Mayor Bill Finch at a midday news conference, "is what a disaster area looks like."

While the workweek sputtered to life Monday, Connecticut residents confronted the full brunt of the biggest snowstorm in decades: Most schools and many businesses were closed, tempers were flaring, and simply getting from point A to point B had become a game of chicken.

By nightfall, questions were raised about whether the treacherous conditions were wholly the result of the storm or if decisions to pull snowplows early Saturday had anything to do with it.

"The last time we had this much snow was never," said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, explaining in Bridgeport why thousands of residents had yet to even see a snowplow from their living room windows. "We haven't thought of ourselves as Minnesota in the past."

But hours later, back in Hartford, he hinted at perhaps another reason.

"I gave advice to plow through the storm," he said. "Some cities didn't keep plowing. They sent people home."

City troubles

Regardless, Malloy announced Monday he is recruiting manpower and machines from as far away as Illinois and Canada. He said the state Department of Transportation has released contract plow drivers to help communities. And he urged residents with snow-moving equipment -- especially front-loaders, pay loaders and tri-axle trucks -- to offer their services.

The number to call in Bridgeport is (203) 576-1311.

Cities like Bridgeport and Hartford are the hardest, he said, because they have so many people and cars in such small areas. Local officials are scrambling to carry about basic functions.

Over the weekend, for example, Bridgeport first responders carried sickly people at times through several blocks of snow, officials said. Workers transported food to hungry babies and connected other residents with dialysis.

Meanwhile, the cities' plows struggled to clear roads often lined with buried cars.

"We have 2,964,000 vehicles in the state," Malloy said. "And there was no place for them to go, in many cases, except where they got parked."

In Bridgeport, Finch said the city might operate twice as fast if there were no abandoned cars to deal with. But he said recent years of municipal belt-tightening haven't hurt the city's ability to handle a blizzard.

Though the city budget document suggests a cut in road maintenance workers, officials said Bridgeport never reduced its snow-removal staff by a single person. In fact, officials and crews have streamlined their plowing protocols compared with two years ago, Finch said.

Responding to accusations that Bridgeport -- and Hartford -- had sent crews home at the height of the storm, city officials were blunt: Fire and public facilities crews were taken off the street for three hours during the height of the whiteout, but no one was sent home. Payloaders remained active throughout the storm to assist ambulance calls.

Even so, only about 100 city streets by Monday were "passable," Finch said, loosely using the term to describe the condition of the city's main thoroughfares -- a portion of Bridgeport's 831 miles of road. That included stretches like downtown's Main Street, which amounted to a rollicking, white-knuckle ride in the early afternoon.

"I don't think we'll get to every road until Sunday," Finch said.

Asked whether he had instituted Bridgeport's snow emergency regulations too late -- special parking and driving rules went into effect at 5 p.m. Friday, a full 24 hours after the city of Stamford's -- Finch said no.

"Most of these people (whose cars got stuck) were yahoos who went out after we told them not to," he said.

Snowballing costs

Across the state, the toll of the biggest snowstorm to hit parts of Connecticut in 125 years continued to mount.

In Meriden, officials announced that two residents -- ages 18 and 20, but as yet unnamed -- were found dead Sunday inside a car, apparently the result of carbon monoxide poisoning. Police told the Record-Journal of Meriden that paths had been shoveled in the driveway alongside the vehicle, but that the rest of it was covered with snow and the windows were rolled up.

They were Connecticut's sixth and seventh casualties of the storm.

In Shelton, police identified the 49-year-old man who died while shoveling snow Saturday as Raymond McPadden, of Darrin Drive.

While Rhode Island and Massachusetts encountered heavier winds and more power outages, Connecticut received the highest snowfalls, Malloy said repeatedly.

Hamden had the highest snowfall of all, with 40 inches. Milford got the second-highest, with 38. Oxford registered the fourth-highest, with 36.2 inches, according to AccuWeather.com.

"It was just as we expected," Bill Jacquemin, chief meteorologist with the Connecticut Weather Center in Danbury, said Monday.

Jacquemin said the blizzard had a bubble in the state where the snowfall was off the charts. The Danbury area, which got about 20 inches, was just to the west of that area.

Looking ahead, Malloy feared that Monday morning's rain and melting snow would cause roofs to start buckling under the heavy weight. Nearly every school in Connecticut built after the 1950s, he said, has a flat roof. He urged property owners to take that into consideration at their own homes and businesses.

By Monday evening, there were 16 reported roof collapses across the state.

Roads and rails

Meanwhile, Metro-North Railroad tightened its "limited service" zone for Tuesday morning to between South Norwalk and New Haven. About 75 percent of the morning peak-travel trains between those cities will operate.

Everything south of South Norwalk -- including the New Canaan and Danbury branch lines -- will run on a normal peak-morning schedule, as will all off-peak trains up through New Haven. All Waterbury service will remain suspended, meaning there are no trains or buses.

"Please expect possible train cancellations and combinations," a release warned. "Trains may be crowded."

More information is available at MTA.info.

Kevin Nursick, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said Monday that "miraculously,'' state highway crews kept all the major highways and roads passable throughout the storm.

"That meant first responders were able to go where they needed to go,'' Nursick said.

By Monday, he said, all travel lanes were open on all the state's highways and routes. But the break-down lanes in many places were still filled with snow. Nursick said the DOT hopes to finish cleaning those lanes by week's end.

However, he said, a lot of sight lines are now impeded by huge piles of snow. Those piles aren't going anywhere, he said, until warmer weather comes to melt them.

"We're asking people to slow it down, drive cautiously and show some courtesy to other drivers,'' he said.

Jacquemin, of the Connecticut Weather Center, said it now looks like a storm building in the Midwest will stay south of Connecticut, just giving it a light dusting midweek.

But, he said, there may be a larger coastal storm developing that could hit the state Saturday or Sunday. After that, he said, much colder air will flow down into the state next week, bringing the chance for more snow.

"I don't think winter is done with us yet," he said.

Staff writers Bill Cummings, Daniel Tepfer, Robert Miller and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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