The big dig-out; 2 die from weather; Travel is hazardous

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 1

Saturday was the day of the storm. Yesterday was the day to dig out.

After the nastiness of 1999’s opening blast of snow, Toledo took to shovels and plows yesterday to slowly clean up nature’s mess.

As the day wore on, the shifting snow dunes shrank to more manageable piles, and the area’s major roadways again became fair game for drivers. Restaurants and stores caked by snow in the morning started to open by afternoon.

In the end, about eight inches fell on Toledo, with up to 15 inches reported in the surrounding area.

At least two deaths were attributed to the storm. In Lenawee County, 40-year-old Mark Gore was killed yesterday when his vehicle was broadsided by another vehicle that had run a stop sign. And in Toledo, an 84-year-old woman, Alice Dickerson, died yesterday after walking outside of her retirement community and falling in the snow.

And while the storm has passed, northwest Ohio and southeastern Michigan will be feeling its effects for a while longer, as cold weather and heavy winds will continue today. Road crews in Toledo said they hope to have all residential streets cleared by tomorrow morning – if everything works according to plan.

They, along with other crews throughout the region, faced a network of roads hard hit by the storm. Hundreds of plows cleared roadways, only to see more snow blow in, or freezing rain coat them with layers of ice.

In Toledo, the city’s division of streets, bridges, and harbor sent more than 100 pieces of equipment out on the streets, including 38 front-line salt trucks and 31 other city vehicles equipped with plows. Private contractors were put in charge of hauling snow out of downtown Toledo.

By afternoon, the city had completed clearing all major streets in Toledo and were making their way to bus routes and areas near schools and hospitals. A few crews were also working on residential streets, and city officials predicted that 90 per cent of city streets would be passable by this morning.

By this morning, city crews will have spread almost 4,000 tons of salt, said Jesse Graham, superintendent of the streets, bridges, and harbor division.

Road crews clearing the roads ran into a few problems from snowmobilers taking advantage of the weather conditions. “I had two guys pass me on snowmobiles while I was plowing on Alexis Road,” said city worker Tom Stelmaszak. “It’s a problem with us trying to do our jobs.”

They will have to fight Mother Nature some more. Forecasts of freezing rain overnight meant city officials expected to have to pull crews from residential areas to refocus on major streets.

The Ohio Department of Transportation’s District 2 had at least 80 plows in the eight counties of northwest Ohio overnight Saturday through yesterday, and they were still at full force yesterday afternoon. ODOT crews have been working in two 12-hour shifts since midnight Saturday.

“We are doing our best.” said James Faught, ODOT spokesman. “But the freezing rain Saturday made it more of a difficult situation.”

In some areas, trucks dropped salt, only to have it blown right off the roadways before it could have any effect.

To keep the main routes open, ODOT pulled the trucks off the less traveled U.S. and state routes, Mr. Faught said.

As of early last night, crews were still working on the region’s main routes: I-75, I-475, I-280, U.S. 24, State Rt. 2, U.S. 20, and U.S. 20A.

Southern Michigan faced some of the heaviest snowfalls. Tecumseh residents were warned to stay indoors after the city got hit with about 15 inches of snow Saturday night.

“The whole county is under a snow emergency,” Tecumseh police officer Jim Less said. “We had knee-high drifts.

“The roads in town are not so bad, but many county roads are pretty bad,” he said.

Ray’s Perrysburg Marathon, the area’s largest AAA emergency road service provider, reported 160 runs yesterday and 190 Saturday. That’s more than double of what could be expected on a regular winter weekend, said dispatcher Tom Carroll.

Some of Toledo’s biggest institutions took the day off. The Toledo Museum of Art and the Center of Science and Industry both shut down; in the museum’s case, it was the first closing in almost 20 years. Churches all across the city canceled Sunday services, and school districts scrambled to see whether classes could be held today.

School wasn’t scheduled to reopen from its holiday break until Tuesday in Toledo Public Schools, and officials at all suburban and most area schools decided last night not to try to open their districts today. All Catholic elementary and secondary schools in Toledo are closed.

Among the people daring to try the roadways Saturday night were the appropriately named Jesse and Sharon Slusher of Springfield Township.

The Slushers were shopping for a heater at The Andersons in Maumee, one of the few stores that opened for business yesterday.

At the Powerhouse Gym on Central Avenue, snow didn’t stop some people from working on their New Year’s resolutions, or working off their excess holiday pounds.

“What else is there to do today?” asked Hal Reidl, 55, who was pumping iron there yesterday. “I was surprised they were open.”

The storm’s impact reached out onto the icy cover of the Maumee River. On Saturday night, Bob Hensley was working as the shipkeeper of the Wolverine, a freighter on the river, when the storm hit. The ship became coated with sheets of ice.

“I was out there hitting it with a ballpeen hammer to get the ice off,” Mr. Hensley said.

He said the ice on the freighter was three to four inches thick, and that the accumulated weight made the ship sink almost four feet lower than normal. Had it gone much farther, he said, water would have come into some of the portholes and possibly sunk the freighter.

Yesterday afternoon, Mr. Hensley was relaxing inside at Tony Packo’s Cafe in East Toledo. Manager Tom Luettke said the restaurant was doing only one-tenth of its normal business, but he decided to open because of the number of regular customers who lived within walking distance.

The owners of the Uncle John’s Pancake House on Secor Road advertised on radio and television that drivers of emergency vehicles or plows would get free pancakes and coffee. Co-owner Mary Baumann said about 25 workers took the restaurant up on its offer.

And while Uncle John’s stayed busy – serving the Brown University women’s basketball team, a wedding party of 25, and walk-ins from the dialysis center across the street – it did about half of their normal Sunday business, Ms. Baumann said.

At the BP gas station across Secor Road – one of the few stations in West Toledo to remain open for all of Saturday night – business was steady and strong yesterday.

“It’s been all coffee, gas, and the paper,” said clerk Julie Boone.

The roadways weren’t the only transportation area bothered by the storm.

Amtrak canceled operation Saturday and yesterday of the Pennsylvanian, which runs from Philadelphia to Chicago through Pittsburgh and Toledo. It ran only from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh both days. Amtrak also canceled the Wolverine, from Chicago to Detroit, yesterday. The cancelations were caused by weather-related equipment malfunctions.

At Toledo Express Airport, all five major airlines – American, Northwest, Continental, US Airways, and Comair – canceled flights. But airport director Ralph “Chip” Hannon said the cause was not at Toledo Express, which kept both of its runways operating. Instead, he blamed other airports, like Chicago and Detroit, which faced larger problems.

It took all of the airport’s crews and snow-cleaning equipment to maintain the runways in working condition, Mr. Hannon said.

TARTA maintained all of its regular routes over the weekend but had delays of up to an hour on Saturday and of five or 10 minutes yesterday.

When the storm hit, counties across the region declared snow emergencies, which limit travel in the affected areas. A Level One emergency is a warning of icy and snowy roads; Level Two means that motorists should travel only if necessary; Level Three means the roads are closed to all except emergency personnel.

Ohio counties that declared a Level Three emergency were: Lucas, Wood, Sandusky, and Seneca.

Lucas County lowered its emergency to a Level Two about 1 p.m. yesterday, and officials said it should be changed to a Level 1 early this morning.

Toledo city officials said garbage collection will continue as scheduled today. All city and county offices, except for Toledo Municipal Court, will be open today. All libraries in the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library system also plan to be open.

The storm inconvenienced more than 2,000 residents in Clyde, who lost power for more than three hours Saturday night when snow knocked out an electrical substation, a Toledo Edison spokesman said.

Toledo Edison also responded yesterday to several reports of power loss throughout the Toledo area, but all were resolved quickly, spokesman Richard Wilkins said.

Toledo area Metroparks were closed yesterday morning but began opening just before 1 p.m., spokesman Art Weber said.

Blade staff writers Mike Sigov, Ignazio Messina, Dee Drummond, Tony Bassett, and Jack Baessler contributed to this report.