Snow-removal crews brace for nature's next assault

January 11, 1996|By Larry Carson and Sherrie Ruhl | Larry Carson and Sherrie Ruhl,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers James M. Coram, Tanya Jones, Dan Morse, Shanon D. Murray, Dennis O'Brien, Alisa Samuels and Andrea F. Siegel contributed to this article.

Baltimore and Harford counties reported major progress yesterday in reclaiming roads from the blizzard, but both jurisdictions still were having trouble removing drifts in rural sections.

Thanks to yesterday's milder weather, all streets in Baltimore County's urban areas were scheduled to be plowed by dawn today. But many small roads "up the country," in northern, rural communities, remained closed by drifts as high as 10 feet, officials said.

Road crews were attacking the toughest areas with large front-end loaders and specialized digging equipment instead of plows, county highway chief C. Richard Moore said.

Snow was being hauled away from curbs and parking meters in central Towson -- the only section of the county getting curb-to-curb cleanup. Elsewhere in the county, all public side streets and cul-de-sacs were being plowed, but the snow piles that resulted were not being removed, Mr. Moore said.

Police Chief Michael D. Gambrill told county officials at the daily storm coordination meeting yesterday that some residents "are getting real creative" in trying to get their driveways plowed by making emergency requests for food, medicine or heating oil.

"There's a lot of game-playing going on out there," he said. Police will transport people only in medical emergencies or get medicine, but the county will not plow private driveways, he said.

Mr. Moore and public works Director Charles R. Olsen said road crews were sent home for sleep Tuesday night and last night, and will work 12-hour shifts through the weekend if the next storm predicted for tonight and tomorrow materializes.

Harford County: Battling blowing snow

County officials said they had thousands of calls to the emergency operations center, the county executive's office and sheriff's department from people complaining that their roads were not plowed -- or not plowed enough.

Residents of the most heavily populated areas said their roads were not clear, while people living in rural areas were upset about roads that were still impassable.

Snow-removal efforts were hampered by winds yesterday afternoon that blew snow back onto the roads -- mostly, according to county spokesman George Harrison, in rural areas where it blew across the wide-open spaces to create drifts more than 10 feet high.

By midafternoon yesterday, about 95 percent of the 950 miles of county roads had been plowed, Mr. Harrison said. "This does not mean that you can see the asphalt, this does not mean there are two lanes open -- what it does mean is that the road is passable."

Mr. Harrison said crews worked diligently to get all roads open to some extent before the next storm. No immediate plan was made for a curb-to-curb attack on the "canyon walls" produced by the plowing.

All the county's 70 pieces of snow-moving equipment, mostly plows, were engaged in the battle -- along with 38 more hired along with their operators from private contractors, Mr. Harrison said.

"We called up everybody we thought might have snow-removal equipment and we asked them to put what they had into service immediately," he said. "It was not a question of a procurement process. This was an emergency situation -- we didn't have six months to sit around and wait for bids."

The contractors could not start until Tuesday evening because of contracts that required them to clear parking lots for shopping centers, he said.

Harford's priority was to open main roads, then roads in heavily populated areas and roads to farms to enable trucks to get in and haul out milk, he said.

But many cul-de-sacs in heavily populated areas remained unplowed yesterday afternoon because of difficulties in getting plows in without first removing some of the snow with front-end loaders and dump trucks.

The biggest obstacle for snow removal in residential areas was parked cars. "In some cases snow crews had to stop work, push the car off the road and then resume plowing -- that really slows us down," Mr. Harrison said.

Anne Arundel County: Battling the clock

County snow-removal crews were trying to get all roads, including residential side streets, at least passable today before a fresh batch of snow starts falling early tomorrow, county officials said.

The effort was set back about 24 hours by unexpectedly heavy snow Tuesday. When the next storm begins, crews "will go right back to square one," working on the top-priority main roads, said Betty Dixon, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works.

School bus routes are the Bureau of Highways' second priority, followed by side streets, removal of the high mounds of snow from some intersections, and clearing side streets from curb to curb, she said.

Howard County: Finish up, start again

In rural western Howard County plows blasted through huge snowdrifts yesterday, while in the more settled eastern half crews tried to free the last uncleared Ellicott City lanes and Columbia cul-de-sacs.

Officials vowed to have all of the county's 850 miles of roads open by dinner time, but they were braced for another big snow beginning tonight.

"We'll just try to get everything done today, rest up and get our equipment repaired for the next round," said Public Works Director James W. Irvin.

Some residents remained snowbound. "I heard the snowplows are supposed to come sometime today, but we've heard that every day," said Walter Somerville, 75, who lives on the Club Court cul-de-sac in Ellicott City. Residents of the 12 houses on his street have been stuck since Sunday, though all adjacent streets are cleared.

And at the Crown gas station on U.S. 40, James Morris ended a work shift yesterday that started at midnight -- on Saturday. "It was boring," he said.

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