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Cities Dig Out From Under

Blizzard a Big Inconvenience, but Could Have Been Much Worse

By Jonathan Finer and Michelle Garcia
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 24, 2005; Page A03

BOSTON, Jan. 23 -- As squealing children on snowboards and inner tubes barreled past him down a narrow Beacon Hill street-turned-toboggan run, David Szczepanek was all business, armed with a red plastic shovel.

His car -- which he said was a Honda Accord -- looked more like an igloo packed by a plow in several feet of fresh snow.

Janice Selley, a lab technician in New Bedford, Mass., trudges home from work after finding her car buried in snow. (Peter Pereira -- Standard-times Via AP)

"This doesn't seem worth it," he said, stopping for a breath. "I think I'll be taking the train to work this week."

From the Great Lakes to Maine, there were two ways to handle the blizzard that dumped upward of 30 inches of snow across much of the northeastern United States over the weekend.

For some, the storm -- which National Weather Service forecasters called one of the five most potent to strike New England in a half-century -- was a dangerous nuisance, stranding passengers at shuttered airports and leaving thousands without electricity.

For others, such as the hordes who took to Boston's virtually empty streets in sleds, cross-country skis and other gear better suited for an alpine village, it was a rare opportunity for a frosty frolic in downtowns that became ghost towns.

Weather experts agreed that the storm -- which included near-hurricane-force winds gusting more than 75 mph -- could have been much worse. The snow that began falling at a rate of two inches per hour Saturday evening was light and fluffy, making shoveling and plowing less of a chore, and causing less damage to power lines.

"For a lot of reasons, we seem to have caught a break here." said Peter Judge, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. "The consistency of the snow helped, and the fact that it was a weekend, so people could stay off the roads."

Still, as the temperature rose and the snow began to melt into a heavier plaster, parts of Cape Cod and the entire island of Nantucket lost power, leaving more than 20,000 people in the dark Sunday, Judge said. Southeast of Boston, the Massachusetts National Guard assisted with evacuations necessitated by coastal flooding in the town of Scituate.

Also, in Massachusetts, a former political columnist for the Boston Globe, David Nyhan, 64, collapsed while shoveling snow and died at a hospital. New York officials said four more people died there.

In Chicago, an icy snow started falling Friday evening, and by 8:30 p.m. traffic on freeways had slowed to about 25 mph, with asphalt and lane markings invisible.

George Tamebureas, who owns a fleet of 17 snow-removal trucks, said his employees worked for almost two days straight, clearing snow at private residences and industrial sites in the city and suburbs.

"We're just going home now," he said Sunday morning, as the weather returned to normal. "We have nine guys who haven't stopped, let me tell you. We're going to get a few hours of sleep now."

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