By Rob Glidden
Southington residents and officials spent several days trying to dig the town out from over two feet of snow left behind by a historic blizzard that overwhelmed the state on Friday evening.
Governor Dannel Malloy declared a state of emergency in Connecticut at noon on Friday, when the snow was still falling lightly. The blizzard reached its peak intensity that night and residents in Southington woke up Saturday morning to see 30 inch walls of snow in every direction.
Officials said the town had gone through the onset of the blizzard with no power outages and few accidents.
“People mostly heeded the warnings and stayed off the road,” said Sergeant Jeff Dobratz, spokesman for the Police Department. “There were a lot of spinouts but nothing very severe as far as accidents go.”
However, the toughest challenges for town staff were after the storm was done. The extensive cleanup was steady, but slow enough to frustrate many residents, particularly those living on more isolated roads. In some neighborhoods, such as Todd Road and Hillside Road, residents took the initiative and opted to clear the streets themselves with snow blowers.
Although the roads all had “one passable lane” by Sunday night, according to a report from the Town Manager’s office, freezing rain on Monday morning was another obstacle for the town.
“During storm preparation last week, we had planned for significant accumulation, though none of the forecasts called for 30 inches of snow with 4 to 5 foot drifts in Southington,” Town Manager Garry Brumback said in a statement. “As the storm progressed and circumstances changed, the snow fall was greater than anyone predicted and the rate exceeded our ability to keep up.”
The plowing effort became more chaotic as officials struggled with mechanical breakdowns, departing contractors and exhausted workers. Adding to the town’s workload were hundreds of service calls to public safety departments for issues like domestic disputes, threats, harassment and vandalism. These calls often required a plow escort to make sure the residents making them could even be reached.
One of these calls involved Donna Perkins, who called 911 after her elderly mother fell. However, one significant problem was that the cul-de-sac where the home was had not been plowed. A half hour later, plows cleared the way for an emergency vehicle and her mother was taken to Bradley Memorial Hospital. After examination, she was able to return home within hours.
“I was quite impressed and appreciative of the quick response from everyone,” Perkins said, in a letter she wrote about the incident.
Problems with carbon monoxide (CO) in homes were also a recurring issue. Fire Captain Alan Zygmunt said that as of press time, out of the 26 calls the department received about CO issues, 17 of them were caused by a blocked furnace or hot water vent. This is not a problem that comes up with every house. Zygmunt said it was mostly newer homes with newer heating systems.
“In a heavy snowstorm, this sort of thing happens,” he said. “If people aren’t aware of where these vents are, they need to be. And they need to make sure they are clear.”
Brumback said that the town’s priority for the rest of the week would be widening the roads, with main roads as top priority followed by secondary and subdivision roads. Plows were also sent to the downtown Southington and Plantsville municipal parking lots to make it easier for residents to get to local businesses.
The sheer volume of snow left behind by the blizzard makes it increasingly difficult for the town to open up local roads. Shoveling snow does not eliminate it, it only moves it, and this can be a tough task in tight spaces. Brumback cautioned that some areas may not be completely free of snow until the end of the week, or even possibly this weekend.
“Our hope is that our citizens can keep this storm in perspective,” Brumback said in a statement. “We are working very hard to clear access for our residents out of their homes, and if people are watching the news, they realize that towns throughout the state are in the same or worse shape as Southington.”
School was not held on the Monday or Tuesday after the storm and Monday’s Town Council meeting was also canceled, with a public hearing on proposed ordinance changes rescheduled for the February 25 meeting.