Democracy Dies in Darkness

Transportation

Cleanup in D.C. after historic blizzard could stretch for days

By Ashley Halsey III, Paul Duggan, Michael Laris

January 25, 2016 at 9:55 PM

Mike Mazza and his son Gabriel stand outside their subdivision attempting to get plow service for their street in Gaithersburg, Md. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)
A woman attempts to dig her car out from the snow in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Adults and children traverse piles of snow and slush puddles in the Columbia Heights neighborhood. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
People walk between snow banks in Washington. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)
A Metro train moves over snow-covered tracks in Washington. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)
A plow clears snow from a residential street in Silver Spring, Md. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)
A narrow lane has been cleared down the middle of a Washington street, burying cars and blocking crosswalks. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
An abandoned plow blade rests amid snow on a corner of L Street in Washington. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)
Snow is piled up near the U.S. Capitol in Washington as the capital digs out after the massive snowstorm over the weekend. (Susan Walsh/AP)
People walk along the Capitol reflecting pool in Washington where snow is piled up. (Susan Walsh/AP)
People make their way through piles of plowed snow in Washington. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Motorists drive by piles of plowed snow on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
A car is partially in snow along a street in Washington. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)
Grace McGuire shovels out her parked car in Washington. (Susan Walsh/AP)
Chairs stand in shoveled out parking spots on 13th Street N.W. in Washington. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
Crews remove snow from Pennsylvania Avenue on the north side of the White House. (Shawn Thew/European Pressphoto Agency)
The early morning sun rises over the White House property, which is covered with snow. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Travis Mulder, 7, middle left, and his brother, Ryan Mulder, 5, top left, play on a large pile of snow in Shirlington Village in Arlington, Va. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
Snow-covered Capital Bikeshare bikes are parked on 16th Street in Washington. (Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post)
Montgomery County public school buses remain idle in Bethesda, Md. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
Dump trucks unload snow from Washington city streets in the parking lot at RFK Stadium, adding to a huge pile. (Kate Patterson/for The Washington Post)
A large truck blows snow as a man walks along Vermont Avenue NW. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
A pedestrian walks past a pile of snow at the corner of L and 14th streets NW. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
A heavy piece of equipment blows snow along Vermont Avenue. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
Metro trains are idle at a switching yard in Alexandria, Va. They are expected to be de-iced. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
The driver of a snow-topped car travels on a mostly empty 16th Street. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)
A snowman with a pretend National Security Agency badge and a cup of coffee stands in Lafayette Square Park, across from the White House. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
Marco Dias of MJM Construction walks on L Street as heavy equipment clears snow. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
Residents of the Belt Road area in Friendship Heights make the best of the snowstorm with a post-blizzard bonfire, complete with roasted marshmallows and mulled wine. (Jim Lo Scalzo/European Pressphoto Agency)
Decked in costumes, people take part in a large snowball fight in Dupont Circle. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
Tamberly Conway prepares to fire back during the snowball fight. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
Snow goes flying at a large Dupont Circle snowball fight. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
Linden Tarrant, 9, is armed and ready for the snowball fight. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
Capitol Hill is a popular spot for sledding. (Michael Reynolds/European Pressphoto Agency)
A group of friends builds a snowman on the Mall. (Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)
A large hill makes for superior sledding next to Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Va. (Bill OLeary/The Washington Post)
Snow covers vehicles in an auto dealers parking lot in Tysons Corner, Va. (Bill OLeary/The Washington Post)
A horse and its tracks in Middleburg, Va. (Bill OLeary/The Washington Post)
Snow removers clear the runways at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va. (Bill OLeary/The Washington Post)
Late sunlight casts long shadows on the snow from a row of trees in Manassas, Va. (Bill OLeary/The Washington Post)
People hold hands as they cross K Street NW. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
A woman walks among the mounds of snow along Highland Street in Arlington, Va. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
A buried bench along Connecticut Avenue NW. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
Garrett Ashbaugh, 7, of Frederick, Md., scales one of several large mounds of snow in the parking lot of a Home Depot in Frederick. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
While clearing driveways for people, Philip Boyce gets a ride in the tractors bucket as Bobby Riggs II navigates the machine down Main Street in Myersville, Md. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
Karen Ramge takes her golden retriever Sasha, left, and her chocolate Lab, Lola, for a walk on Main Street in Myersville, Md. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
Snow whipped around by a snowblower obscures a man clearing a sidewalk in Frederick, Md. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
A man shovels a sidewalk along Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, Va. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
John Lamoreux and his son, Reed, who turns 6 on Monday, sled in their front yard in Reston, Va. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
Sisters with the Servants of the Lord order shovel out a car on 15th Street SE. (Kate Patterson/for The Washington Post)
A landscape contractor works to clear the Monocacy MARC train commuter parking lot in Frederick. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
D.C. residents sled down a small hill in Columbia Heights. (Oliver Contreras/for The Washington Post)
A car parked on the street is coated in snow late at night in Centreville, Va. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)
A fire hydrant peeks out from the snow in Centreville. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)
Photo Gallery: What the D.C. area looks like after the epic blizzard

With major highways reopened after the monumental weekend storm, snowplows turned to secondary roads Monday, but it may be days before they reach into the warren of residential streets to excavate homeowners snowbound since Friday.

Metro said that it planned to resume full rail service on all but the Silver Line at 5 a.m. Tuesday and that bus service would be expanded, although still extremely limited, as the capital region struggled to dig out from under more than two feet of snow.

Related: Live updates on Tuesday morning as major issues snarl Metro

The news about Metro’s revival after a weekend hiatus was a welcome relief for many who were eager to return to work and school after the novelty of the massive storm began to wear off.

Although most school systems said they would remain closed Tuesday — and some, like Arlington County, through Wednesday — many workplaces were prepared to call on their employees to return. But the federal government announced just before 10 p.m. that its offices in the D.C. region will remain closed Tuesday.

Watch more!
Capital Weather Gang's Jason Samenow has your weekly forecast and reports on just how much snow fell in the D.C. area during "Snowzilla." (Jason Samenow,Ashleigh Joplin/The Washington Post)

Most U.S. post offices in the region reopened, but delivery service was spotty because mail carriers often could not reach homes and businesses

Related: The full list of what is closed on Tuesday

Local authorities continued to urge drivers who had been snowbound since Friday to avoid unnecessary trips so that plowing could continue.

The work of snow crews was complicated by the fact that the more than two feet of snow that fell in many places could not be easily shoved aside. Much of the snow had to be hauled off to an open space, creating mountains that would take weeks or months to melt away.

Officials were largely noncommittal about when they expected plowing to be finished. District officials said they hoped to have the downtown area cleared enough to be “back to business” by Tuesday, when D.C. government planned to reopen.

With the vast task, authorities were prioritizing, and the neighborhoods where people actually live and park their cars were often not at the top of the list.

In the District, Michael Czin, spokesman for Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), said “we want to get the main thoroughfares clear” and “we want to make sure the most likely Metro [bus] routes are up and running.”

Watch more!
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser warns residents not to park on snow emergency routes as cleanup efforts begin after a major blizzard hit the East Coast. (wusa9)

“And we’ll continue to make our way through the residential streets,” Czin said.

A giant snow melter is on its way from Indiana, a convoy of trucks is heading to the District from Connecticut and the city is seeking federal assistance, said Chris Geldart, the city’s director of homeland security and emergency services.

“Twenty-four inches of snow across 4,400 miles [of roadway], we have a lot of snow we’re going to be moving,” Geldart said.

Related: The latest forecast: A chance of rain today could melt some snow

Hope for a big thaw was dimmed by the forecast, which suggested a touch of rain or snow Tuesday and Wednesday that could create icy conditions and the possibility of more snow later in the week.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Peter K. Rahn warned that the weather could cause dangerous conditions. He said that on interstates and U.S. highways, “we have bare roads . . . for at least two lanes in each direction. We don’t have all of the shoulders cleared,” Rahn said.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said Monday that “local authorities particularly, will need time to dig out.”

Montgomery County offered no promises of when all its residents would be freed from impassible residential streets.

“It’s not going to be over today. It’s not going to be over tomorrow. We’ll just have to see when it will be over,” said county spokesman Patrick Lacefield.

On Monday, county plows began to move through larger residential roads, he said. Smaller neighborhood streets will come next.

“We have our crews working 24/7,” Lacefield said. “We’ve still got a ways to go.”

Virginia said its interstates will be largely, though not completely, cleared by Tuesday’s morning rush.

“We’ll have to see how much progress we make overnight,” said Jennifer McCord, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation. “It’s just so much more snow than we usually get.”

Virginia officials said they have made significant progress on clearing streets in subdivisions, but they offered no timetable for when all neighborhood roads would be traversable.

Though many people wanted to break out from the snow, there remained a degree of patience.

“The streets will get plowed when they get to it,” said Ed Rich, who said the first plow reached his Rockville street at 10 a.m. Monday. “I have no complaints. I think people need to be patient. Major roads need to be plowed first.”

In Silver Spring, Laura Hagmann, 53, said she’d heard the distant beeping of a snowplow in her neighborhood Monday morning but didn’t expect to see one on her residential street for another day.

“I am sympathetic,” she said. “There is a lot of snow out there, and it just takes time to remove it.”

But by Tuesday, she said, “my patience will be waning.”

Small dramas and acts of kindness played out through Monday’s sparse but steady commute, which served as something of an easy practice run. But the relatively minor disruptions seen Monday may be amplified into major bottlenecks, as larger numbers of drivers potentially head back out Tuesday.

At one downtown corner Monday, two large red plows driven by city contractors scraped their way down I Street one after the other. But the trail of heavy, dirty snow that sloughed off their plow blades ended up blocking the northbound lane of a major cross street (17th Street), forcing cars to swerve into the oncoming traffic lane to get by. Later, a follow-up plow got stuck on a snow mound while turning to clean up the mess.

One good Samaritan offered Josephine Jimenez, an investment consultant, a hand as she climbed over the snowbank blocking the sidewalk. “I was hoping they’d scoop a little bit more,” Jimenez said. “I’m from San Francisco, so this is all different for me.”

One continuing danger posed by the snow sent seven people to the hospital in Fairfax with carbon monoxide poisoning Sunday night after the exhaust vents inside their apartment building’s furnace rooms became clogged with snow.

“This is a huge concern,” said Capt. Randy Bittinger of the Fairfax County fire department. “We certainly don’t want people to go out on their roofs, but they should make sure those vents are also clear.”

At least nine people in Maryland, Virginia and the District have died in incidents related to the blizzard, according to figures released Monday. Several more deaths are being investigated.

Virginia State Police said six deaths are linked to the storm – one traffic fatality in Chesapeake, and five due to hypothermia in the city of Hampton and the counties of Wise, Charles City, Gloucester and Henry.

Not included in this list is the death of a man Sunday in Leesburg who police said suffered an apparent heart attack while walking home from a store through waist-high snow. A Virginia State police spokesman said this death is among several awaiting rulings from the medical examiner’s office, so the number could climb.

In Maryland, two deaths have been confirmed by authorities as snow-related. A man in his 60s died Saturday after shoveling snow in Fort Washington, in Prince George’s County, and a 49-year-old man died in Abingdon, northeast of Baltimore, also while shoveling snow.

Police in Maryland are investigating two other possibly storm-related deaths. The body of a man described by police as homeless was found Sunday in Laurel, in a snowbank off U.S. 1, and a woman was found earlier that day lying on a street in Hampstead, about 30 miles northwest of Baltimore.

There was one storm death reported in the District, that of an 82-year-old man who D.C. fire officials said died Sunday after shoveling snow on a residential street in Northeast.

Some flights resumed Monday at the region’s three major airports, which were largely shut down over the weekend. But passengers were encouraged to check their flight’s status before heading to the airport.


Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.

Paul Duggan covers the Metro system and transportation issues for The Washington Post.

Mike Laris came to Post by way of Los Angeles and Beijing. He’s written about the world’s greatest holstein bull, earth’s biggest pork producer, home builders, the homeless, steel workers and Italian tumors.

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