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Boro pummeled by powerful winter storm

By Cynthia Koons

The weekend blizzard brought high winds and white-out conditions to the city beginning Saturday about noon and ending early Sunday – hours before it was expected to stop. Two firefighters born and raised in Queens died in separate fire rescue attempts in the Bronx and Brooklyn during the storm, which blanketed the region with 11.1 inches at LaGuardia Airport, 15.5 inches in Fresh Meadows, 18.6 inches in Douglaston and 12.6 inches in Whitestone, according to National Weather Service.On Sunday, the National Weather Service said the 8.5 inches of snowfall that fell in New York that day made for a record, beating out the 8.1 inches that came down on the same day in 1987.Roadways were still slippery Monday morning despite city Department of Sanitation reports that all the city roads had been plowed at least once by 11 p.m. Sunday. Delays were also reported on the Long Island Rail Road Monday morning as commuters huddled in the bitter cold at stations in Bayside and Woodside. Subways were slowed by a track fire on the C line. Subway service was delayed on some lines by switching problems because of the severe cold with temperates hovering in the teens on Sunday and Monday.A spokeswoman for the Sanitation Department said that the city's roads had been salted by 5 a.m. Monday. Nevertheless, drivers around Queens Tuesday reported snow banks as high two feet crowding the streets, which in many parts had been effectively reduced to a single lane.Many Queens motorists still had not dug out by late Tuesday as 900 shovelers worked for the city clearing sidewalks. Alternate side of the street parking rules were suspended until Saturday, The morning commute was slowed by the storm Monday as the Long Island Rail Road reported delays of up to 30 minutes on some lines. Some trains were simply dropped from the schedule, while others ran with far fewer cars than normal. Of the 146 LIRR trains scheduled to operate during Monday morning rush hour, 127 ran late with average delays of 24.8 minutes, LIRR spokesman Sam Zambuto said. On Monday evening, of the 133 trains scheduled to operate, 74 were late with an average lag time of 18.6 minutes, Zambuto said. Delays stretched into Tuesday morning, when 83 of the scheduled 146 rush hour trains were late, averaging about 13.7 minutes behind schedule.Prior to the fall of the first flake, Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited a garage in the Maspeth Sanitation truck yard Saturday morning to assure New Yorkers that the roads would be plowed and salted, no matter what the price tag.”One of the things you can do for events like these is plan ahead,” Bloomberg said.Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty said he expected to have all the roads open by 5 a.m. Monday in time for the weekday commute.”We're going to take care of this city regardless of the cost,” Bloomberg said. “Monday morning I'll worry about the cost.”He estimated the city spent about $1 million per inch of snow removal.According to the facts compiled by the Sanitation Department, the city had a $26 million snow budget for the 2004-2005 season, of which it had already spent $11 million.Last year's snow budget was $20 million, according to the department's numbers, but the city spent $40 million cleaning up after winter storms.”The first thing you do is make the city safe and then you worry about the cost,” Bloomberg said.Vito Turso, an assistant commissioner with the Sanitation Department, said trucks that were out picking up garbage Saturday morning would be turned into snow plows as soon as two inches had accumulated.”All of the trucks on garbage collection are equipped with snow plows,” he said.About 2,500 sanitation workers worked each shift to help remove the accumulation. Turso said homeowners were expected to shovel their sidewalks within four hours of the end of the storm. The agency promised to give $100 tickets to those who did not clear their sidewalks in a timely manner.During the storm, both LaGuardia and Kennedy airports reported delays in takeoffs. At JFK, a cargo plane slipped off the tarmac Saturday afternoon, according to the Breaking News Network.Although it was immediately classified as a two-alarm emergency, the Fire Department reported no fire on the plane and no injuries to the five people on board, according to the BNN.In parks across the borough, children could be seen sledding as shovelers took to the streets.Supermarkets, like Met food store in Astoria, saw a rush on Saturday before the storm hit.”It was busy,” assistant manager Steven Rinaldi said. “If it was still snowing today, we'd probably be closed early.”Rinaldi drove from his home in Maspeth Sunday to the store on Astoria Boulevard.”This morning was bad, (the roads) were slippery,” he said. He said he took his commute “nice and slow” and was not surprised that the store was busy prior to the blizzard.”Always in a storm, people panic,” he said.Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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