Queens blanketed in up to 6 inches of snow

By Michelle Han

The heavy, wet snowfall that dumped as much as six inches on Queens Tuesday closed LaGuardia Airport, delayed the Long Island Rail Road, turned driving into a contact sport but failed to close the borough's schools.

It was the latest of Mother Nature's signs of winter as the borough rode out another week of unseasonably cold temperatures and bone-chilling winds.

A soggy layer of three to six inches of snow blanketed the borough Tuesday and weather forecasts were predicting no relief early Wednesday. Winds of up to 50 mph pummeled Queens' coastal areas, which were hard hit by flooding in the aftermath of the snowstorm.

A water main break at 156th Street and Booth Memorial Avenue in Flushing and a power outage in Maspeth because of frozen power lines were among the casualties of Tuesday's storm.

LaGuardia Airport was closed for several hours Tuesday, opening later in the day with massive delays and cancellations. Kennedy International remained open throughout the day but also experienced numerous cancellations and 60-minute delays.

Even as Mayor Rudolph Giuliani urged motorists to stay off the roads and businesses to releases workers on a staggered basis to alleviate the evening rush, the Board of Education kept public schools open Tuesday, canceling after-school programs but allowing superintendents to run the city's Project Read after school program.

Officials said Queens subways were running on schedule and the Long Island Rail Road was operating with scattered 10-minute delays.

While spinouts and stalled cars dotted the slush-covered roadways throughout the borough, there were no reported fatalities due to the storm as of press time this week.

In two news conferences, Giuliani applauded the efforts of the Sanitation and Transportation agencies in making roads passable and praised the city's Fire Department and emergency services units, which responded to numerous accidents along the Grand Central Parkway and Long Island Expressway in western Queens.

“If you see one, say thank you to a sanitation worker,” Giuliani said.

Some 1,243 snow plows hit the city's roadways at 5 a.m. Tuesday. By evening the city had cleared 84 percent of its roadways, the mayor said.

Jeremy Hauer, director of the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management, said the Flushing water main break was cleared away quickly enough to avoid flooding in basements.

Throughout Queens, where residents have for years criticized the city's ability to adequately clear well over 2,000 miles of the borough's roadways, many main throughways remained slush-covered well into the afternoon.

Some 900 Department of Sanitation employees working 12-hours shifts were assigned to Queens alone, according to Dan Andrews, a spokesman for the borough president. The city had ordered 12,000 tons of salt intended for Queens roads in the event of a storm like Tuesday's, Andrews said.

City Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis), chairman of the Public Safety Committee, recalled moments during his 12-year tenure when residents compared unplowed roads in Queens to winters in Siberia.

“It wasn't perfect this time, but it was much better,” Leffler said.

Jamaica resident Jeffrey Hamilton, whose job as a UPS driver takes him over Queens roadways on the roughest of winter days, said it simply took a little bit of road wisdom to navigate the slippery roads: “Go slow, be safe.”