“And then it was like hitting a wall of snow,” Scanlon said, staring at the car, which was wedged into the middle of Kenmore Street, surrounded by neighbors wielding shovels, anxious that the marooned Chrysler could spell trouble if a snow plow were ever to pass. If. “I figured once we got going it was going to be all right. How in Arlington, Virginia are you going to have a block of houses look like it’s inside the Russian tundra? This is the street that time forgot.”
Scanlon, 30, who lives near the Key Bridge, wasn’t alone in thinking that Maywood – a small cluster of historic homes just a few miles from the District – has somehow been forgotten in the aftermath of Snowzilla. As of Tuesday evening, Arlington’s online plowing maps show Maywood as one of several islands that crews haven’t yet attempted to clear.
Nearly three days after the last snowflakes fell, the neighborhood’s streets remained untouched. Where Scanlon and Mayhugh got stuck is in a school bus route that remains under a blanket of more than two feet of snow, an impassable stretch that is crisscrossed with narrow walking paths and lined with frustrated residents.
Harry Wang, Arlington’s Water Sewer Streets bureau chief, said Tuesday afternoon that about 50 to 60 percent of the county’s streets have been plowed and that Arlington hopes to have 80 to 90 percent of its streets cleared by noon on Wednesday, which is one of the reasons schools are closed through Wednesday. But he cautioned that it “could be days” before the entire county is plowed.
Wang said one of the main problems is efficiency; the deep snow and thaws and refreezing has made it difficult for standard plows to move through the streets. The plows keep getting stuck, Wang said, and then need heavy rescue equipment to bail them out.
“It’s the amount of snow and the condition of the snow,” Wang said. He said crews are on their 10th 12-hour shift and that they hope to reach everyone as soon as possible: “It’s just a matter of getting to you.”
Mike Moon, Arlington’s deputy director of environmental services, said the county has pulled trucks that have been hauling snow in Crystal City and redirected them into neighborhoods. He said more than 4,500 comments have come into the snow reporting section on the county website — including 400 in a single hour — and he encouraged residents to keep sending their concerns.
State transportation crews maintain roads in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, and Arlington, though in Arlington secondary roads are handled by Arlington County. While some parts of the region appear to be approaching normalcy, other harder-to-reach neighborhoods throughout the area are still inundated.
Frustrated residents in parts of Fairfax County — including Chantilly, Centreville, Clifton and Fairfax Station — have been calling county officials to complain about still-unplowed local streets, officials said. Homeowners associations, which are responsible for plowing the roads in their subdivisions, haven’t started yet because they’re still waiting on the Virginia Department of Transportation, said county Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield.)
“I’ve had a couple of HOAS tell me that their plows can’t get through to the areas they need to plow because they’re still waiting on VDOT,” Herrity said, calling the state’s snow removal efforts “a real mixed bag.”
State transportation officials are aiming to have all roads in Northern Virginia plowed by Wednesday morning. But the entire cleanup effort could take several days more, said Sharon Bulova, chair of the Fairfax County board of supervisors.
“They’re now saying that the clearing may not be completed until the weekend, which is frustrating for homeowners and businesses,” said Bulova, who nonetheless called for more patience.
City officials in Mount Rainier, just northeast of D.C., thought they were ready for Snowzilla, too, but the massive snowfall was a far more formidable foe than expected. Three of the city’s four snow plows are currently in the shop, city officials were trapped elsewhere, and residents of city of 8,500 overwhelmed city offices with complaint calls.
It has been “the perfect storm,” said Tracy Loh, a city elected official. “We are talking about record-breaking amounts of snow and it’s challenging for our equipment because our beautiful historic community has narrow streets and quite a few hills.”
Impatient residents have deluged the city’s listserv, Facebook and other social media accounts with photos of snow-laden alleys, posts about the exact locations of snow drifts and hashtags saying “Side streets matter.”
The neighbors in a small enclave of North Potomac, Md., decided to take their plowing problem into their own hands. Many had shoveled out their cars and driveways, but the snow in the street was about two and a half feet, making it impossible to drive.
Some were running out of groceries. Others had to get back to work, with their offices reopening. One family needed to get a child to a doctor—nothing overly serious, but a concern. Many were feeling stir-crazy.
Rachel Boxman, 47, says she and others were not convinced that Montgomery County’s cleanup crews – who were clearing so many miles of snow-packed roads – would get to their subdivision any time soon.
So they hired a plow.
Late Monday afternoon, the plow showed up and removed snow for an hour and half, at a cost of $375, which many of the 40 neighbors are sharing. The same driver had plowed another area street a day earlier, which is how Boxman heard of him.
“People were really happy,” she said. “They were so grateful. I think we’re all feeling more normal now.”
Boxman celebrated by going out to dinner Monday night with her family, as well as a niece and a friend. At the restaurant, they talked to other diners about being snowed in.
“We all said how lucky we were to escape,” she said.
In Arlington’s Maywood neighborhood on Tuesday afternoon, a U.S. Postal Service truck took one look at 21st Avenue midday and turned away; firemen called to investigate a gas leak trudged in by foot, leaving their truck nearby; neighbors have flocked to cars that have made ill-fated attempts to get through, using snowblowers, shovels, wooden boards and elbow grease to send them on their way.
“I kept trying to be patient, but it seems a little absurd,” said Latanja Thomas, who was shoveling a path in the street in front of her home about the width of a car, hoping that she might at some point be able to drive out and connect with a cleared road. “Everyone can use it,” she laughed. “Just don’t park in it.”
Thomas has been splitting her time between binge-watching Netflix, shoveling and doing a little work, while many in the neighborhood have been catching up on chores while trying to guess when they might be freed to leave. Families with young children have been gathering in a rotating play date, schoolchildren have been sledding in Thrifton Hill park and down the middle of steep, unplowed Monroe Street, and some have been gathering for evening Snowzilla parties.
“It’s nice to be able to get some things done,” said Phil Robinson, 60, who has lived in Maywood for 23 years. “We took down the Christmas tree, finally. But we’re stuck. I can’t get to the Metro. I had to cancel a doctor’s appointment today. The question is, does the neighborhood have to do it ourselves, or is the cavalry going to come and save us? We just don’t know where we stand.”
For some, being trapped in an inconvenience more than anything; power to the neighborhood has been steady and local stores within walking distance are open. But for others, it’s a source of at least a little anxiety. Carrie Dooher, for example, is due to have her second child on Monday, and at 39 weeks pregnant, she’s not sure how she would get to the hospital if she needed to.
“There’s nothing I can do, so I’m trying not to worry about it,” Dooher said as her son, Colton, 2, put together an ABC puzzle. “We’ve done what we can. We’ve cleared our cars and our driveway. Arlington hasn’t done what it needs to do. I guess I’ll have to hoof it to the fire station in active labor if I need to. That isn’t ideal.”
Many in the neighborhood have joined together to share the burden, shoveling sidewalks for those who can’t and helping out those who get stuck. Mike McMenamin, an independent who recently ran an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the County Board, brought out his powerful snowblower and carved out walkways, driveways and helped clear a path for an Uber driver whose Chevy Suburban got stuck at the height of the storm.
“People are out clearing their own streets because they don’t know when the plows are going to come, or if they’re going to come,” McMenamin said just as an older gentleman walked by and with a shrug asked if anyone knew when Maywood would get dug out. “People just want to know when they’re coming.”
Frieda Kulish agreed that information-sharing is the biggest problem. The mystery of it, she said, is the most frustrating part.
“People become less frustrated if they know what the plan is,” Kulish said. “We don’t know what the plan is. If there’s no plan, they really need a plan.”
Scanlon and Mayhugh, who got their car stuck in Maywood, were happy to leave after repeated bouts of digging, scraping, shoveling, and pushing. Scanlon looked around before the car dislodged and commented on the historic homes around him.
“I’ve never been in here, it’s really beautiful,” Scanlon said. “Too bad we can’t drive through to see the rest of it.”
By 8 p.m. Tuesday night, several pieces of heavy equipment had arrived in Maywood, clearing the streets to pavement and piling the snow into giant, jagged mountains. The Russian tundra was moved, the path to the outside world restored.
Arelis Hernandez, Michael Laris and Patricia Sullivan contributed to this report.