Roads open in the west, crews report Workers spend 4 days with little sleep battling 15-foot drifts

'It looks like Antarctica'

As residents dig out, officials start to worry about new storm

January 11, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers James M. Coram, Ed Heard, Howard Libit, Shanon D. Murray and Alisa Samuels contributed to this article.

After going home to grab some sleep for the first time since the weekend -- albeit only three hours worth -- George Duvall climbed into his huge snowplow yesterday and blasted away at western Howard County's 15-foot-tall snow drifts for the fourth straight day.

"The good Lord put these drifts here," said Mr. Duvall, 55, bumping along in the cab of his V-shaped plow. "And I've got to take them away."

By the end of the day, he and his colleagues reported all west county roads open for the first time since the weekend blizzard.

But in the more urban parts of the county to the east, crews continued to tackle the last of snowbound Ellicott City lanes and Columbia cul-de-sacs.

Howard officials vowed yesterday to have all 850 miles of roads in the county open by the end of the day, but some small streets remained snowbound last night.

And no roads were completely back to normal -- given the huge mounds of snow that narrowed them and sharply restricted visibility at many intersections.

"I think it's ridiculous," said accountant Steve Vass, 27, of Elkridge as he sat down to eat two slices of pepperoni pizza at The Mall in Columbia. "It looks like Antarctica."

Officials hoped to begin widening and cleaning up already plowed thoroughfares today, but were bracing for another 8 to 16 inches of snow predicted to begin falling 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. "We had 5 inches of snow [Tuesday], and it was almost a nonevent. Usually, everything comes to halt with that kind of snow."

County Executive Charles I. Ecker said he will seek funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay expenses associated with the blizzard.

Earlier in the week, Mr. Ecker said cleanup costs this week would run more than $500,000. Yesterday, he put the total tab for round-the-clock plowing, additional police and fire services, meals for workers and operation of the county's emergency command center at $4 million. The county's annual snow removal budget is less than $300,000.

For many residents, the toughest task was finding milk.

Among five Giant Food outlets in Columbia, several reported having little or none of it. The late afternoon arrival of a milk shipment at the Owen Brown store set off a small stampede of shoppers.

And at a Crown station on U.S. 40, James Morris ended a work shift yesterday that started at midnight -- on Saturday.

To pass the time, he read mysteries, novels and magazines. He slept in two chairs he pulled together when business was slow. Said Mr. Morris: "It was boring "

Things also were boring -- and frustrating -- for snowed-in cul-de-sac residents in Columbia and Ellicott City. Parked cars hampered plowing. Some small streets were missed altogether by plows.

Such was the case on Club Court near Northfield Elementary School in Ellicott City. Crews had plowed streets leading to the 12-home cul-de-sac, stacking mounds of snow at its entrance.

"They seem to have missed us," said Joseph W. Shearer, 74. "I've called every agency in the phone book. I get busy signals, no answers and recordings that say, 'We're not working today.' I can't find anyone. We're three blocks off of a main road, and we've been forgotten about."

Mr. Shearer's frustration is especially acute because his pregnant daughter-in-law -- who lives with him, his son and his step-grandchildren -- is due to give birth in about three weeks. What if the baby comes early?

"That's always in the back of my mind," said Donald Shearer, Mr. Shearer's son.

On Columbia's Rum Cay Court near Swansfield Elementary School, residents were freed by plows late yesterday afternoon. Before then, resident Gertrude

Nolan said, she twice called the emergency operations center -- with little immediate action.

At the operations center -- in the basement of the George Howard government building in Ellicott City -- department heads and other government workers staffed 14 phones in a scene resembling a fund-raising telethon.

"There were only a few abusive calls," said phone answerer Beverly M. Wilhide, administrative assistant to Mr. Ecker.

County government will be open today, but will have a liberal leave policy for employees. Courts also will be open.

Schools will be closed for the rest of the week.

A school board meeting is tentatively scheduled for 4 p.m. today. Also, the board hearing on boundary lines for school attendance -- originally set for Tuesday night -- has been moved to 8 p.m. today at the Department of Education building on Route 108.

County trash pickup is to resume today. Crews will work on a regular schedule, so trash not collected Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will have to wait until next week. Recycling pickups -- including Christmas trees -- may resume next week.

"It's a mess, but we're going to give it a shot," said Tom Hare of the Department of Public Works.

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