Blizzard means no snow day for some

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Long before back-to-back blizzards made the winter of 2010 historic for the entire Mid-Atlantic region, it was already a significant season for Shawn E. Rowe.

His son, Chase, was born Jan. 23.

Mr. Rowe, a dispatch supervisor for the Virginia State Police, had planned to be off work from after his son’s birth until Monday. But Mother Nature had other plans.

He ended getting called back to work last Friday night and worked through the weekend blizzard. He said he was lucky to make it home Sunday morning for a couple of days, but was back at it Tuesday when the snow came again. Mr. Rowe hopes he’ll get to go home again Thursday morning and maybe then he’ll be able to take some time off to spend with his family.

“It’s the nature of the job,” he said. “When things happen you just have to do what you have to do to get the job done.”

Mr. Rowe’s story is just one of the many snapshots of those for whom taking a snow day or working from home simply isn’t an option.

But their jobs may still not be over, as forecasters warned of a third wave of snow that could hit the Northeast on Monday.

On Thursday, D.C.-area schools and the federal government remained closed. The snow had stopped falling nearly 12 hours earlier, and temperatures near 32 degrees helped with melting and street clearing. But winds blowing snow on already shoveled sidewalks remained a problem.

The region’s three major airports — Washington Dulles International and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall and Ronald Reagan Washington National — have reopened but flights are delayed.

Amtrak has limited service in Washington, especially along the Northeast Corridor where downed trees have contributed to delays. And limited subway and bus service have slowed local commuters.

The storm has been blamed for more than a dozen deaths, mostly in traffic accidents.

Crews in Maryland worked to rescue motorists stranded on highways in snow drifts up to 8 feet and utility workers scrambled to restore power to more than 100,000 customers.

Paul Kocin, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said the storm compares to some of the greatest ever largely because of its timing. He estimated 50 million people were affected.

As a result of Wednesday’s snowfall, the three airports set records for snowfall in a winter season: National reached 54.9 inches, Dulles reached 67 1/2 inches and Baltimore-Washington International reached 65.6 inches.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Democrat, has asked President Obama to declare a federal emergency in response to the record snowfall. Such a declaration would make area governments most of which already have spent their snow budgets for the year eligible for federal disaster relief.

More than a foot of new snow fell Wednesday and wind gusts of up to 40 mph created near-whiteout conditions. But this second blizzard in a week to pulverize the region didn’t stop thousands of medical, public safety and social service personnel whose services were needed.

“We’re out there doing our jobs,” said Sgt. Nicholas Breul of the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, where 700 people worked Wednesday, only a little less than typical. “The show must go on.”

But getting there wasn’t always easy.

Sgt. Breul said the National Guard has offered its services - and 12 Humvees - to the department. The Humvees, which are all-terrain military vehicles, were used in some cases to pick up officers and other department staff from their homes on otherwise impassible streets.

The department also made use of its own sport utility vehicles to respond to calls throughout the District, which Sgt. Breul said were generally lower than usual and mostly related to traffic issues.

Some police cruisers were outfitted with snow chains on their tires.

Sgt. Breul said the chains didn’t come quite in time for one officer whose cruiser got stuck in the snow on the way to getting the chains. Fortunately, Sgt. Bruel said, a group of citizens gave the cruiser a push, which helped free it from the snow.

“Sometimes the police need a little help,” he said.

Such civic spirit also allowed most area hospitals to remain staffed and fully operation during the two storms, after they put out calls to the general public for four-wheel drive vehicles to help get doctors and nurses and other staff to work.

Che Parker, a spokesman for Inova Health System, said all five Northern Virginia hospitals in his system were fully staffed and operating Wednesday morning as they had been over the weekend.

Kimberly Gibbs, spokeswoman at the 318-bed Alexandria Inova Hospital, said volunteers brought in doctors, nurses and other staff, who generally stayed once they were at the facility.

“Two hundred and fifty staff members stayed overnight,” she said. “Nearly 100 volunteers with four-wheel drive took staff to and from work.”

Mr. Parker said several of his facilities in Alexandria, Fairfax and Mount Vernon still need volunteers with four-wheel-drive vehicles.

“The community response has been great,” Mr. Parker said.

Sibley Hospital, a 328-bed acute care community hospital in Northwest Washington, also used volunteers to bring staff to the facility, said Sheilah Roy, Sibley’s director of public relations.

Children’s National Medical Center was fully staffed and operating both Wednesday and last weekend, according to Jacqueline Bowens, the facility’s executive vice president and chief government and external affairs officer.

She said that more than 400 staffers slept at the facility last weekend, and more did the same Tuesday night, to keep running the 283-bed facility that is the Washington area’s only free-standing pediatric hospital.

“Our team was phenomenal,” she said, pointing out many stayed over from Thursday to Monday. The hospital ordered 125 pizzas and 5,000 wings for the staff for Sunday night for the Super Bowl, she said.

Ms. Gibbs, the Alexandria Inova spokeswoman, said the emergency room in her 318-bed hospital was relatively quiet during the weekend storm but did see more patients in the days after as people started to venture out.

“The main thing we saw were slips and falls and a number of chest pains,” she said.

Mr. Parker said Inova’s Fairfax, Fair Oaks and Mount Vernon facilities did not experience significant snow-related injuries.

Besides Alexandria, the exception was Inova Loudoun Hospital a 183-bed acute-care community hospital in Leesburg.

“Inova Loudoun Hospital has seen a steady flow of snow-related injuries since the weekend storm,” Mr. Parker said, describing the injuries as “fractures from falls, strains and sprains from shoveling and one cardiac issue from shoveling.”

One such case elsewhere in the area did result in the first apparent snow-related fatality in the Washington region of an Annapolis high school custodian who fell Monday while clearing snow at the school.

Kelton Foote, a custodian at Broadneck High School since 1988, died after being taken to the hospital, said Bob Mosier, a spokesman for the Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

“He was at work helping to clean the walkways when he fell,” said Mr. Mosier, adding that he did not know what may have caused the fall.

In a statement, Superintendent Kevin Maxwell called Mr. Foote “an enormous and beloved presence at Broadneck High School who left a legacy of hard work and dedication to the school and its community. His ready smile, warm nature, and genuine laugh endeared him to students and staff alike.”

But regardless of whether hospital facilities are quiet or harried, its supply of blood-related goods needs constant replenishment.

The Red Cross said that the storm had resulted in a serious shortage in the supply of platelets, a vital blood component used to treat trauma victims and cancer patients.

“The platelet supply is at grave risk for shortage,” said Mike Baisey, a spokesman for the Red Cross’ Greater Chesapeake and Potomac Blood Services Region, which includes the District, most of Maryland, Northern Virginia and a small part of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Baisey said the organization lost two days of collections at the weekend when the storm closed nearly all its collection operations and then lost a third day Wednesday when current storms did the same thing.

Since platelets last only five days, the supply could be depleted by the end of the week if the Red Cross does not get more donors. He said his group is trying to import platelets from other regions, but fears the weather could delay their arrival.

Mr. Baisey said the Red Cross is urging eligible platelet donors to call 800/272-2123 to set up an appointment.

Whole-blood donations also have been affected by the storm, and the Red Cross needs more donations, particularly from persons with Type O and B blood, he said.

“We absolutely need people to donate blood,” Mr. Baisey said.

Belinda Buescher, public information officer for the Fairfax County Department of Family Services, was on standby Wednesday waiting to see whether her services were needed should the county have decided it needed to open an emergency shelter for people whose homes may have been damaged or lost power.

The county opened two after the weekend storm and Ms. Buescher was called to work at one. But she said her Alexandria street was impassible and she wouldn’t have been able to get to the shelter without the help of a pair of volunteers who drove her there in an SUV.

She’d need the same type of assistance if she was called upon to work at a shelter again.

“Unless it’s within walking distance,” she said.

About the Author
Ben Conery

Ben Conery

Ben Conery is a member of the investigative team covering the Supreme Court and legal affairs. Prior to coming to The Washington Times in 2008, Mr. Conery covered criminal justice and legal affairs for daily newspapers in Connecticut and Massachusetts. He was a 2006 recipient of the New England Newspaper Association’s Publick Occurrences Award for a series of articles about ...

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