By Anna Gustafson and Rebecca Henely
Sunday’s blizzard sent the borough into a tailspin, making it impossible for emergency vehicles to reach sick residents, slowing fire trucks trying to reach a five-alarm blaze in Elmhurst and leaving people stranded in buses and homes with no passable roads.
While Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city Department of Sanitation had deployed more than 1,700 plows and 2,000 workers to clear buried streets, borough legislators said the city’s response to this blizzard has been one of its worst responses to a disaster yet.
“The amount of complaints we’ve been receiving is unbelievable,” City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) said Tuesday. “The response to the storm has been shockingly inadequate. This is the worst response I’ve seen. I just drove around the neighborhood and most secondary streets have been plowed once or not at all. We have a pregnant woman who’s afraid she’ll go into labor, a kid on a respiratory who can’t get to get to a doctor’s appointment and people who just want to get out and go to work.”
Bloomberg said plows have had a difficult time maneuvering around vehicles left in the road.
“Today our No. 1 challenge is stuck ambulances and abandoned cars and buses,” Bloomberg said Tuesday. “These abandoned vehicles are making it very difficult for our plows to move as quickly as they usually do, and that is one of the real differences between this storm and past ones that we’ve dealt with.”
The NYPD and tow trucks had removed about 1,000 abandoned vehicles from the Van Wyck, Gowanus and Cross Bronx Expressways, according to Bloomberg. More than 1,000 buses throughout the city were stranded during the storm that began around midday Sunday, a MTA spokeswoman said.
“Hundreds of Amalgamated Transit Union members were stuck on their buses for hours, some for more than 24 hours,” said Daneek Miller, president of the ATU Local 1056. “Riders waited for buses much longer than reasonable, even in these difficult weather conditions.”
Lisa Horner of Middle Village, whose 14-year-old daughter Carly Nieves has leukemia, said her block on 58th Avenue and 76th Street had not been plowed on Tuesday, blocking her daughter from getting to her chemotherapy treatment. Ambulances have not been able to reach her house.
“I’m just shocked,” Horner said. “I can’t recall any time we’ve had snow that this has gone on as long as it did.”
As of Tuesday evening, Horner said she had been able to reschedule Carly’s appointment for Wednesday, but she has heard of others who have had chemotherapy or dialysis that cannot wait a day.
Response times have been hampered by unplowed streets, stranded vehicles, snow and ice, said Jim Long, spokesman for the Fire Department. Long said on a normal day the FDNY averages 3,200 to 3,400 calls a day citywide, but on Monday the department received 6,000 calls.
These response times turned one fire in a 66-unit apartment building on 41-72 Judge St. into a five-alarm Monday at 6:30 p.m. Long said an accidental space heater fire set the top floor of the apartment ablaze, and because of the weather the firefighters took longer to get set up.
Yoselin Genao, chief of staff for City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), said the majority of tenants were evacuated into PS 89. Four residents and four firefighters were hurt in the blaze, she said.
“People are very upset about the initial response from the Fire Department because it took them a long time to get through,” Genao said.
Many residents were unable to use their own cars, and even when they turned to mass transportation things were not much better. Buses are moving slowly because of the snow, and six bus routes in Queens were not running as of Tuesday evening, according to the MTA.