Digging Out

Maryland endures worst winter storm in 81 years

Snowfall causes roofs to collapse, closures and at least 3 deaths

Ehrlich to seek disaster aid

The Snowstrorm Of 2003

February 18, 2003|By Johnathon E. Briggs and Scott Calvert | Johnathon E. Briggs and Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

The state's worst winter storm in 81 years left Marylanders with sore backs and aching muscles yesterday as they began the arduous task of digging out from beneath mounds of snow that collapsed rooftops, snarled roads, stranded hundreds of travelers and was blamed for at least three storm-related deaths.

Across the region, awnings and barns buckled under the crushing weight of the snow, causing injuries to people and livestock. Even the 119-year-old roundhouse at the B&O Railroad Museum complex was not immune: The historic shrine to American railroading lost half its roof to a mass of snow.

"This is going to go down as a pretty memorable storm," said Andy Woodcock, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday that he plans to ask President Bush to declare Maryland a federal disaster area to help the state recoup the costs of cleaning up the storm, second only to the "Knickerbocker Storm" of January 1922 that dumped 26.5 inches in Baltimore.

The state will spend at least $30 million by the time road-clearing crews are done scraping the last inch of snow from state highways, Ehrlich said.

If the state is eligible, the federal government could reimburse state and local governments for up to 75 percent of what it cost to combat the weekend storm that dumped 24.4 inches at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The governor lifted his executive order yesterday that banned driving Sunday night, but he continued to make televised pleas for motorists to stay off the roads.

State troopers, patrolling in four-wheel drive vehicles and more than 50 National Guard Humvees, had responded to 1,330 calls for service by yesterday morning, including 173 accidents and 764 motorists with disabled vehicles, said Maj. Greg Shipley, Maryland state police spokesman.

But by and large, officials said, motorists were heeding the governor's advice, which enabled road crews to make considerable progress as the state of emergency remained in effect for a second day.

Movement was slow across the region as Marylanders struggled to a navigate a snow-covered landscape that resembled a beautifully eerie Arctic wasteland.

Planes at BWI were grounded for much of the day. The Maryland Transit Administration kept buses and trains off the roads and rails. Schools and city and county government offices in the Baltimore region - closed anyway for Presidents Day yesterday - will also be closed today.

Curbside trash and bulk items will not be picked up in Baltimore, Annapolis or Anne Arundel County today. Baltimore officials said service would be delayed "until further notice."

Many on foot

In the storm's aftermath, walking and shoveling have become exercises of necessity.

With sidewalks buried beneath heaps of white, powdery snow, pedestrians took the place of cars on streets in downtown Baltimore, walking in the well-worn tire tracks of SUVs. On Monument Street, walkers with arms and thumbs outstretched begged for rides. Along Interstate 95 in Cecil County, a long line of cars snaked behind a wedge of snow plows.

The storm turned Main Street in Ellicott City into a ghost town of closed shops. For much of yesterday morning, the only audible sounds were the scraping of snow shovels on sidewalks and the occasional passing of a snowplow, pickup truck or SUV.

Yardstick measurements showed snow levels that ranged from 16 to 31 inches along Main Street. So much snow fell that it brought down a tent over a restaurant patio and the metal awning over the sidewalk in front of a hardware store. It also created drifts so high that they engulfed cars parked along a nearby residential community.

"Some of these cars look like igloos, they're so covered," said John Aundertmark, who was digging out his Ford along Frederick Road.

In the Landings neighborhood of Annapolis, Carolyn Smith looked spent after two hours of shoveling knee-deep snow from around her Toyota Camry and her front steps. Her exercise routine typically consists of walks through the Library of Congress, where she is a researcher.

"I may discover aches and pains I never knew about before," she said yesterday. "I keep thinking, `Where are all those enterprising neighborhood kids who want to make a little money?'"

The cleanup

In Little Italy, a sense of civic unity was on display outside St. Leo the Great Church, where 12-year-old Rico Feracci was busy shoveling the snow off the steps of the church where he serves as an altar boy.

Rico said he had shoveled the walk outside his house and his grandmother's house before landing his first paying job - $10 shoveling for a neighbor on Exeter Street. He was shoveling the snow at the church, he said, for free.

"Even if Father Mike offers me money, I ain't going to take it," said Rico, who then quickly, and excitedly, realized that his Pepsi can had frozen to the concrete. "Look at that."

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