City lifts snow emergency

Papo Lopez digging out his boss' car on Carpenter Lane in Mount Airy on Sunday morning. The region had to handle nearly two feet of snow - or more.
Papo Lopez digging out his boss' car on Carpenter Lane in Mount Airy on Sunday morning. The region had to handle nearly two feet of snow - or more. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 26, 2016

Some people depend on the kindness of strangers. In this case, the stranger was Kindness.

As cars struggled and swerved, stranded along treacherous Chestnut Hill side streets, Tony Kindness, 40, shoveled the middle of Evergreen Avenue to clear a path for a marooned Jetta.

"Normally, they do a pretty good job, but for whatever reason, not today," said Kindness. "Right now, we're just trying to get this Jetta out."

As the piles of snow - nearly two feet or more in many areas - began to thaw Sunday morning, residents such as Kindness emerged to deal with the mess, digging out buried cars and hacking away at frozen sidewalks. Kids hauled sleds to snow-slick hills, while plow drivers continued to navigate through narrow streets walled in white.

At 10 p.m. Sunday, the city officially lifted its declared snow emergency, meaning that cars could once again be parked on snow emergency routes.

The after-mess of the storm caused the Philadelphia School District and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to cancel all school Monday, and numerous schools elsewhere in the region were closed. Trash collection in the city was also canceled Monday because the sanitation trucks are needed to clear streets.

To facilitate the clean-up, the Philadelphia Parking Authority will not enforce meter and kiosk violations on Monday. Safety violations, such as blocking intersections, hydrants and bus zones, however, will be enforced.

"This will be a long-term plowing and cleaning operation," Mayor Kenney said of the city's fourth-largest snowstorm.

The official snow total at Philadelphia International Airport was 22.4 inches, with totals as high as 30 inches in Malvern and nearly 32 inches at the Lehigh Valley Airport. At the Jersey Shore, where Atlantic City got 10 inches of snow, coastal flooding was more damaging to some homes and businesses than Hurricane Sandy was in 2012.

The airport reopened Sunday, and SEPTA started resuming bus and trolley service, though Regional Rail service remained suspended. SEPTA officials said that some rail lines are expected to resume service in time for Monday morning's commute but that passengers should expect "a slow start" because of "still challenging" conditions in the yards where the trains have been idled since Friday.

On the Pennsylvania Turnpike, hundreds of stranded vehicles, some stuck for more than 16 hours after two tractor trailers jackknifed, finally made their way home.

In a briefing Sunday morning at the Emergency Operations Center on Second and Spring Garden Streets, Kenney lauded the work of 600 city streets and fleet employees and 400 plow drivers.

"Those folks were soldiers in the war against Mother Nature," Kenney said. "They were not backing down. They were not hesitating. They were taking 15-minute catnaps and then back on the trucks and plows, hauling salt, fixing cars."

Not everyone was pleased. Frustrations mounted in one South Philadelphia neighborhood where snow was piled several feet high Sunday afternoon.

A man living on Percy Street, near Porter, leaned out from a second-store window to complain that the street was not touched by a city plow.

"What if there are babies and sick people who need to get to the hospital?" said Richie DiCredico, who said he had a 2-year-old and 3-year-old at home. "I'm disabled myself, and if there was an emergency, we couldn't get out."

DiCredico said that the Philadelphia Parking Authority wiped off snow to give him a ticket during a storm last year.

"We're paying all this money on parking tickets, but we can't get the city to plow our streets," he said. "Where does the money go?"

Some residents took drastic - and unwise - measures. On Porter near 10th, a city front-end loader was clearing the way for a tow truck to remove a charred car, its tires melted, stuck in the center of the road.

A resident said someone had pulled a mattress out to the street and put it under the small four-door sedan to try to drive over it to get some traction. The car went up in flames and torched a nearby Lincoln Navigator.

City officials said priority and residential roads were getting cleared Saturday and Sunday. The city's 311 center will start taking requests for plowing and salting 6 a.m. Monday.

The Philadelphia Parking Authority will hold cars parked in its garages until 7 a.m. Tuesday at the same $5-a-day rate.

As of Sunday morning, 158 cars had been moved from city streets to allow for plowing and salting.

"The biggest challenge is making sure we can get vehicles throughout the city," said Samantha Phillips, director of emergency management in Philadelphia. "Our focus is to widen those streets to make them as clear as possible."

Phillips said there were relatively few outages and no tree emergencies. Police reported little crime over the weekend.

Two area deaths Saturday were attributed to the storm. An 88-year-old man died shoveling snow in Lower Providence, Montgomery County, on Saturday and a 56-year-old man in Berks County was apparently trapped in his running car by a snowplow deluge and died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

In addition to all Philadelphia public and Catholic school closings, early childhood, after-school programs, and district administrative offices are also closed.

Carol Thomas, director of homeless services for Project HOME, said more than 100 people were transported with help from the Office of Emergency Management and the city's Office of Supportive Housing over the weekend.

Most touching, Thomas said, were those who not only called but housed people - in some cases overnight - until Project HOME could get to them Sunday.

The chief executive officer of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission promised to look into why drivers were left stranded for upward of 18 hours on the impassable roadway, necessitating several National Guard rescues. Members of the Temple University women's gymnastics team, en route to a meet, were stuck on their bus all day Saturday, stayed overnight at a hotel, and returned to Philadelphia at 7 p.m. Sunday.

In Downingtown, parishioners at Calvary Fellowship Church attended church service on their laptops Sunday morning after the roof of the 1,100-seat auditorium buckled under two feet of snow Saturday night.

"There's just this gaping hole in the roof," pastor Lee Wiggins said. "Water from the fire sprinkler system was just flooding down the balcony. It sounded like a waterfall."

Lee said that engineers estimated the repairs would cost $1 million and that the church could use its gymnasium for services in the interim.

Despite the problems caused by the storm, Kenney predicted a gradual return to normalcy for the week, starting with all city offices open Monday.

"We'll do our job, get back to business," he said. "Mother Nature threw us this curveball. She does that every now and then, and I think we responded quite well and will continue to respond to get our city back to normal."

jterruso@phillynews.com

215-854-5506@juliaterruso

Staff writers David O'Reilly and William Bender contributed to this article.

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