Snow volunteers pitch in to shovel as schools try to open

By Debbi Wilgoren, Theola Labbé-DeBose and Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 16, 2010; 11:31 AM

Washington lurched back to work and school Tuesday morning -- slowed in many places by vehicle accidents and snow-clogged streets, but aided by staggered opening times for schools and the federal government and a last-ditch public-private effort to clear piles of snow and ice over the holiday weekend.

Major traffic jams were reported throughout the morning, as commuters negotiated curb lanes blocked by snow and ice and a series of overturned vehicles, collisions and lane closures on major highways. While many schools stayed closed for a sixth or seventh consecutive day, others struggled to transport children safely to their classrooms along ice-rutted streets and walkways. Many bus and carpool stops had to be shifted or altered because snow blocked the usual locations.

There was a new hurdle before daybreak: An overturned tractor-trailer blocked the northbound lanes of Interstate 95 in College Park, and a possible fuel spill from the accident shut down ramps onto the highway from the Capital Beltway. As the rush hour progressed, other accidents were reported, bottling up routes into the city from around the Beltway.

But Metrorail was running on time, and downtown streets were more clear of snow than they had been during Friday's disastrous commute home.

Street parking is still nearly impossible to find in both the city and the suburbs, and many curb lanes are still blocked by snow or ice. The top levels of some parking garages have not been plowed. Snow removal continues, and a snow emergency remained in effect in D.C. through Tuesday night, making it illegal to park along many major roadways.

Traffic cameras showed parts of downtown badly clogged by mid-morning as the delayed opening for federal agencies took effect. Commuters reported bumper-to-bumper traffic on many arteries --including the 14th Street bridge into the District, and New York Avenue/Route 50 headed out of the city.

School systems in Anne Arundel, Fauquier, Frederick, Howard, Prince George's and Prince William counties and the city of Alexandria declined to open Tuesday, saying that -- despite several remarkable public appeals to residents to help shovel -- not enough progress had been made for students to get to class safely.

But D.C. schools and government offices opened on time, and the federal government and many area school systems opened two hours late, as stir-crazy Washingtonians tried to resume a normal schedule more than a week after the record-setting snowfall began.

In Prince George's County, meanwhile, frustrated parents railed at a late-in-the-day announcement Monday that schools would be closed Tuesday, for the sixth consecutive day. Schools spokeswoman Tanzi West said older students can earn community service hours for assisting with snow removal at schools. But that didn't help parents of younger children who suddenly needed day care in order to get to work.

"Why can't they figure this out earlier?" asked Dierdre Marrow, a business owner in Bowie. She was working the phone Monday night trying to find a place for her daughter, 6-year-old Harlee Smith, to spend the day. "It's too late to find a babysitter. I am stuck."

Some teachers in the county, especially those who also have children in the school system, were incensed by the decision that faculty and staff had to report to work even though classes were canceled.

"My husband has to go to work today because we were unable to get out and he missed three days last week. I have no idea what to do," said one elementary school teacher, who has young children and did not want to be quoted by name.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company