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Digging out begins as snowstorm heads to sea

©Associated Press
February 19, 2003

BOSTON -- The Northeast struggled to dig out Tuesday from a paralyzing storm that unloaded up to 4 feet of snow, broke snow-removal budgets and stranded thousands of people at airports up and down the East Coast.

The storm, blamed for 40 deaths, headed out to sea after taking a parting shot at Boston, which got a record 27 1/2 inches by the time the snow stopped falling Tuesday morning.

Homeowners and motorists dug out their cars and doorways and toiled to reopen driveways that had been sealed shut by passing snowplows.

"What can you do?" said 38-year-old Brian Shipley of Rockville, Md., standing waist-deep in the little canyon he had shoveled in the path to his door. "You dig out and you get ready for tomorrow."

A few blocks away, acupuncturist Cindy Clark foresaw a lot of sore backs. "There's going to be more work than I can handle for a long time," she said, leaning against a shovel in her almost cleared driveway.

Major airports labored to resume service after the biggest snowstorm to hit the Northeast in seven years.

Boston's Logan International had only about 25 takeoffs and landings an hour, compared with 80 to 90 during a typical weekday. Baltimore-Washington International opened one runway for takeoffs Tuesday morning and the first arriving flight in 21/2 days landed during the afternoon.

Thousands of people expecting to fly home from vacations were stranded at airports in Florida. With northern airports catching up Tuesday, airlines could not meet the demand.

"As US Airways explained to us, everyone's going nowhere fast," David Kiley said at Baltimore-Washington, keeping watch over a half-dozen 9- and 10-year-olds in wheelchairs who had flown from Charlotte, N.C., to Washington for a basketball tournament. They had spent two nights in a motel.

The storm spread snow from the Plains to New England, caused floods and power outages, and closed schools from West Virginia to Massachusetts. Federal offices remained closed Tuesday in Washington; they had been closed Monday for Washington's Birthday.

On Tuesday, 13 poultry houses in several West Virginia counties collapsed under the snow's weight, killing 325,000 chickens and turkeys.

Because the snowstorm struck on the long holiday weekend and during midwinter vacation week for many schoolchildren, traffic was lighter than usual and plowing was easier.

"This has been one of those storms where things could go either way, and it's gone the right way every time for us," said Peter Judge of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. "It was sort of Murphy's Law in reverse."

Boston's accumulation beat even the legendary Blizzard of 1978, when 27.1 inches of snow fell. But this storm did not pack nearly the punch. During the Blizzard of '78, hurricane-force wind created snowdrifts so big that thousands of drivers simply abandoned their cars. Ninety-nine deaths were blamed on the storm.

This snowstorm brought the fourth-heaviest accumulation on record for New York City: 19.8 inches in Central Park. And for the region, it was the worst snowstorm since the Blizzard of 1996, blamed for at least 80 deaths.

For state and city governments, clearing away the snow was a monumental headache.

Maryland's State Highway Administration was $14-million over budget before the Washington's Birthday storm, which Gov. Robert Ehrlich estimated had cost the state $20-million to $30-million.

Fairfield, Conn., budgeted about $200,000 for snow removal this season but had spent $500,000 before this storm, which cost at least $100,000, First Selectman Kenneth Flatto said.

The storm is expected to cost cash-strapped New Jersey about $14-million.

"We had a snow budget of $15-million," said Jack Lettiere, New Jersey's acting transportation commissioner. "And we had spent $30-million before this storm even started."

Weather-related deaths included two in Illinois, five in Pennsylvania, seven in West Virginia, six in Missouri, two in Virginia, four in Maryland, two in New York City, four in Iowa and one each in Nebraska, Ohio, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Three people died in Tennessee, including a 7-year-old girl whose body was found Tuesday, two days after the car she was riding in was swept away by a rain-swollen stream. Her 12-year-old brother is missing.

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