Tumbling down a mountain of snow created by a snowplow at Belvedere… (Baltimore Sun photo by Amy…)
Maryland dug, scraped, clawed and hauled its way back toward a semblance of normal life - at least on main roads - as a break in the weather gave residents and workers an opportunity to remove snow without more falling on their heads.
Many secondary roads and neighborhood streets were still covered in snow - and might still be today and Saturday - after the second of two storms to pummel the state in a week added 20 inches or so in many areas. But interstates in the Baltimore area were fully cleared to the pavement, in some cases for the first time since Maryland's ordeal by flakes began late last Friday. State highway crews using front-end loaders and dump trucks were turning their attention to primary and secondary roads, seeking to restore lanes that remain blocked by hauling away high piles of dirty snow that plows can't budge.
Bit by bit, the situation improved. Power restoration around the state was making good progress: BGE said Thursday night that about 2,500 customers still lacked electricity. Baltimore- Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport will be back in full operation today, but public transit will still be limited. Schools remain closed, while the state, city and most counties reopen with liberal leave policies for today. The federal government said employees could report two hours late or take unscheduled leave.
In Baltimore, Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake asked city residents to be patient as crews deal with the after-effects of the twin storms. "Baltimore has never seen anything like this before," she said, describing it as a "difficult and inconvenient time for our citizens." But she stressed that "this city was safe during this historic emergency."
Police and fire responded to more than 1,500 police and medical emergency calls, plus two house fires, the mayor said. Though plows were redirected to major roads during the most recent storm, contractors using smaller Bobcats and backhoes were working on secondary roads, according to Transportation Director Alfred H. Foxx.
Some residents were unimpressed with the city's efforts. Andrew Timleck of Better Waverly e-mailed that "not one plow has showed its face" on Montpelier, Independence, East 30th, Mathews or Ellerslie streets. He wrote that residents are pulling together, but "being forgotten like this isn't acceptable."
The most serious problems on state roads remained in Frederick and Carroll counties, where high winds formed deep drifts across roadways. In southern Frederick County, on the roads to Brunswick and Harpers Ferry, W. Va., several dozen vehicles were stranded Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Emergency officials launched a rescue mission using Maryland National Guard and Maryland State Police, and by nightfall, authorities believed they had rescued all those stranded. Erin Holloway, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, said there were no fatalities or medical emergencies.
Maryland, which records 10 to 12 deaths on its roads in a typical week, also continued its remarkable streak of days without a traffic fatality into its seventh day.
There was a near-miss Thursday on the Beltway's outer loop near U.S. 40 when a tractor-trailer plowed into a State Highway Administration pickup truck flashing a signal for traffic to move over so snow removal could proceed. The SHA's James L. Flutka was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center with injuries that were not considered life-threatening. The trucker, Robert D. Scolaro of Lakeland, Fla., was ticketed for failure to control speed to avoid a collision. The outer loop was closed about 30 minutes before two lanes were opened.
The heavy snow caused other problems, too. At the Mall in Columbia, a loud noise forced the evacuation of the Lord & Taylor store. Bob Frances, Howard County's building inspection chief, said a roof beam flexed slightly under the weight of the snow, but that he saw no danger. The store was to remain closed until at least noon today, according to Lori Rhodes, a Lord & Taylor spokeswoman.
State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick gave a reprieve of sorts to schoolchildren, saying that she will ask the state school board to waive a requirement that students be in school for a minimum of 180 days a year. Grasmick has taken this step of waiving the statewide requirement only once - after the ice storms of the mid-1990s.
In Annapolis, all but a few dozen Maryland lawmakers reported for duty - but again had little to do. For the second day in a row, nearly all public hearings were canceled, leaving lawmakers with ample time to return e-mail and phone calls from constituents. The House of Delegates and Senate will convene at 11 a.m. today, but a full schedule of hearings won't resume until Tuesday.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, predicted the "whopper" snowstorms wouldn't have a lasting impact on state government's work this year because they came early in the 90-day legislative session.