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Boro blizzard hearing finds city could have done better

Boro blizzard hearing finds city could have done better
Councilman Dan Halloran (from l.), Borough President Helen Marshall, Councilwoman Letitia James, City Speaker Christine Quinn, and Councilman Leroy Comrie talk to Queens residents about the December blizzard. Photo by Ivan Pereira
By Ivan Pereira

Dozens of community leaders urged the City Council not only to find the reasons behind the paralysis caused by the Christmas weekend blizzard, but also to reassure them and residents that it will not happen again.

All the Council members from Queens showed up at the hearing, one of the five planned for the boroughs, to get resident feedback on the Dec. 26 blizzard that dropped more than a foot of snow onto the city.

Borough President Helen Marshall said she was displeased with the city’s snow removal and cleanup efforts in the borough compared to the job done in Manhattan. Since most of Queens is only accessible by bus or car, Marshall said the plows should have been out clearing the streets, but instead people were stranded in their homes for days.

“We’re going to have a lot of snow,” she said. “We’ve got to do better.”

Iggy Terranova, the representative from the city Sanitation Department, admitted the agency could have performed its duties better, but said the agency was hindered by the power of the blizzard.

“Our snow plows did not meet the standards of New Yorkers,” he said.

He noted that since the storm, sanitation crews have taken new steps to be more efficient and reliable, including early plow drives and tracking trucks as they go across the city.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) applauded Terranova for his honesty and listening to residents’ concerns, but was critical of the department for not sending Commissioner John Doherty to the hearings so he could answer New Yorkers directly. Too many people were hurt one way or another because of the blizzard and they deserved answers from the top department heads, according to the speaker.

“We did believe having hearings would provide borough-based reasons for the [lack of] snow removals,” she said.

Community board heads said some streets began to get plowed only four days after the storm and other city services, such as garbage pickup, did not resume till more than a week later. Marshall was critical of the city for not plowing the streets of the major bus routes because it was the only way residents could get to work.

The MTA revealed Monday that the storm cost them nearly $30 million in overtime pay and lost revenue.

Perhaps the hardest hit victims of the unplowed roads was Laura Freeman of Corona. Freeman’s mother, Yvonne, suffered a heart attack Jan. 27 and it took EMS crews nearly two hours to get to her, but she was pronounced dead at the scene.

Laura Freeman could not hold back her emotions as she recounted her experience waiting for help.

“I kept getting a message. Why?” she asked as she remembered waiting to be connected to an overburdened 911 system.

Marshall, who knew Yvonne Freeman, said she was moved by Laura’s courage to speak at the hearing and reassured her that she would help.

The 911 system was not the only phone line that was overloaded during the storm. Nearly 13,000 Queens residents called the city’s help line the day after the storm, compared to 500 in Manhattan, according to state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing).

Several administrators from community boards said their offices were flooded with calls in the days following the storm from residents who could not get through to 311. Frank Gulluscio, the district manager for Community Board 6 in Forest Hills, said he was upset over the city’s haphazard handling of the storm, especially since it was more organized in handling the tornado that hit his neighborhood three months earlier.

“In a couple of hours, people were here — city, state and federal,” he said of the September storm.

Many of the speakers, who were also members of community boards, told of similar problems that they heard from their residents. Although all said the city was to blame for the snow-clogged streets, many said they needed to have information from the people who were trying to clear the streets and see why they could not do their job.

“I think to get to the bottom of this, one has to talk to the people on the bottom of the ground,” said CB 5 District Manager Gary Giordano.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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