Digging out: life returns to normal, for some

Feb 11, 2013

Rhode Islanders are emerging from a blizzard that sent two feet of snow and hurricane-force winds, grinding Rhode Island to a halt.  But life isn’t entirely back to normal for everyone.

Many Rhode Island communities have sprung back to life. Stepping out of the rain in downtown Providence, Craig Ellerby says he thinks this city got back on its feet quickly.

“They anticipated this stuff coming, so they had time to prepare for it," he said. "So they had a head start on the situation before it got here, which was a big plus.”

Bus passenger Elizabeth Blan was headed for Kennedy Plaza, downtown Providence, happy to be mobile again.

“I am so glad to see the buses running," said Blan. "We don’t know how much we miss them until they’re gone. It’s great. Now it takes away all the stress.”

Not that they mind, but life is not quite back to normal for kids in Pawtucket and Woonsocket, who will miss another day of school Tuesday because of the storm. More communities may follow suit.

It’s not quite back to normal for North Providence, where the mayor is lamenting the molasses pace of the clean-up in his town.

And it hasn’t exactly been business-as-usual for some emergency workers in Pawtucket, who’ve been riding snowmobiles out on rescues.

We haven’t even mentioned the 20-thousand or so National Grid customers who still lack power.

That said, the situation has improved dramatically, says National Grid spokesman David Graves.

At the peak of the storm, which would have been Saturday morning, at about 7 am, there were approximately 187,000 customers without service in Rhode Island.”

Graves says crews have had to dig equipment and power lines out. Now, most of the remaining outages are in Washington County.

“We will have a full complement of crews that have been going out throughout the day today. And we do expect to have customers, the last of the customers, restored by midnight tonight.”

That should help some of the 140 Rhode Islanders who spent Sunday night in Red Cross shelters to keep warm. But so should the forecast.

Rain arrived Monday morning– melting the snow and weighing it down in places. Temperatures are climbing and could linger in the mid-forties through Wednesday.

In Cranston, city spokesman Carlos Lopez says most roads have been cleared, but now crews are dealing with more than just storm clean-up.

“The actual snow, the plowing, the sanding. But we’re also focusing on clearing out the main cache basins, making sure they’re not obstructed," said Lopez, "so that way we don’t have flooding issues.”

In Providence, spokesman David Ortiz says officials are also keeping an eye on the huge amount of moisture.

“Whenever you have this much snow on the ground and blocking the sewers and the cache basins, you have to plan for the potential of flooding."

And by the way, residents can help prevent that. The Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency’s Anne Marie Beardsworth says: don’t put that shovel away just yet.

“I know everyone has had more than their fair share of shoveling, but they can just clear out that little storm drain area, it’ll prevent some ponding on the streets.”

So just how bad was this storm? How did it compare to, say, the Blizzard of ’78? The National Weather Service hasn’t yet issued an official snow tally or pronouncement yet on whether this blizzard broke records. But it’s pretty safe to say it was massive. It ground New England to a halt. Kept airplanes out of the sky, trains off the rails, cars off the roads. It sapped gas supplies, emptied supermarket bread shelves. It shuttered schools and businesses, rescheduled meetings and events, rerouted buses, delayed trash pick-up.

And in Rhode Island, it caused hundreds of storm-related injuries, including dozens of vehicle accidents, slips and falls, and some carbon monoxide poisoning. Lifespan hospitals reported only one storm-related death, a heart attack.

But the storm also brought some beauty, and some rare opportunities. On Saturday, Judy Meissner was able to cross-country ski down South Main Street in Providence.

“It’s perfect with a few inches of snow on the ground and not icy yet," said Meissner. "You can just go really fast and glide really well.”

Brown University MFA student Matt Russell and fellow actors took advantage of a rare break in their schedules to survey downtown.

“We’re just kind of exploring, taking pictures, having snowball fights. Just kind of walking around, seeing what’s open…. And we were cooped up while the snow was falling, so it’s nice to be out…”

School might have been canceled, but Russell and friends still had to be at a rehearsal. Snow or no snow, the show clearly must go on.

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic? Please email us, we'd like to hear from you. news@ripr.org