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Queens comes through storm relatively unscathed

Queens comes through storm relatively unscathed
By the TimesLedger staff

Winter storm Hercules left Queens residents wrestling with up to 11 inches of snow Friday.

Though public transportation was rolling through the powder, the city canceled public school classes and after-school programs Friday, forcing some parents to stay home from work.

Airports did not fare as well. The Port Authority closed John F. Kennedy Airport, where the National Weather Service recorded 6.6 inches of snow, at 6:30 a.m. because pilots were looking at very limited visibility and runways strewn with snow. By noon, crews had restored service on one of Kennedy’s four runways and were busy clearing the three remaining pathways.

Port Authority said 192 flights had been canceled at JFK as of Friday morning, while 271 were canceled at LaGuardia Airport, where the National Weather Service measured 6.9 inches of snow.

Travelers bound for Kennedy were forced to rely on buses, however, because AirTrain shuttles were operating with limited service.

Most Metropolitan Transportation Authority trains in Queens were running with good service. But No.7 trains were snarled with delays due to a signal problem. MTA warned commuters to allow for additional time.

The storm and cold weather caused problems with Long Island Rail Road ticket machines at stations in Queens. The LIRR announced it was charging off-peak fares on board trains as a result and was running on a weekend schedule. The MTA suspended service on the West Hempstead branch, which travels to and from Jamaica.

It took commuter D. Thelwell an extra hour to travel from her home in Kew Gardens to Bayside Friday morning. She usually drives everywhere, but did not want to risk snowy roads.

“It’s been a pain, but it beats driving,” she said. “It put my life back two hours, but at least it was moving.”

Those who could shovel out their cars had free reign of major roads. The state reopened the Long Island Expressway and other highways by 8 a.m. Friday. The city Department of Transportation said it was unaware of any road closures in Queens, but some residents complained about sporadic plowing, particularly in northeast Queens.

Few precincts reported any weather-related incidents. The 111th Precinct in Bayside said it received calls about a few minor fender-benders, but no major accidents.

Most offices of Queens lawmakers said constituents had not called with complaints — even in Middle Village, where the National Weather Service reported 10.8 inches of snow had accumulated, the highest level in the borough.

But elected officials in northeast Queens said plows were not rapidly deployed.

Staff at Councilman Paul Vallone’s (D-Bayside) said parts of College Point near 118th Street and 13th Avenue remained unplowed until the office relayed a resident’s concern to the city at 12:45 p.m.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said he would give Mayor de Blasio a “D” on his first response to inclement weather.

“My own block still hasn’t been plowed. I was lucky to be able to get my car out,” Avella said around 12:30 p.m. “In most snowstorms, my street would have been plowed by 9 o’clock in the morning.

Avella, whose office runs a senior snow removal program that dispatches volunteers to assist the elderly, said parts of Bayside, Douglaston and Little Neck remained under a thick blanket of snow, while other streets had been plowed multiple times.

“This is now what I would say is a killer storm,” he said. “We should have been better prepared for it. I think it’s unacceptable.”

The senator, his staff and about six volunteers were out responding to about 35 requests for shoveling. Avella said his team has not been able to recruit enough volunteers to assist all the disabled and seniors who ask for help, particularly after major storms.

“We’ve probably got another 50 who would like to be helped,” he said.

Elsewhere in the neighborhood, the retail windows at the Bayside post office remained shuttered.

In Far Rockaway, City Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) said some NYCHA buildings were still dealing with boilers damaged by Superstorm Sandy, but the housing authority came in to set up warming centers. Overall, he said, he gave the city’s response good marks.

“They did a good job. You’re always going to have some places that are going to be missed,” he said. “[The administration] was very proactive about reaching out and telling us who to contact.”

Department of Education Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced public schools would remain closed Friday shortly before 5 a.m.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York gave parents more notice by sending students home with memos Thursday afternoon announcing parochial schools would be closed Friday, according to Janet McCreesh, president of the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association.

“I didn’t go to work,” she said. “It’s an extra day of chores for me, but the kids are having fun.”

Queens libraries welcomed patrons Friday, but few came.

Joanne King, communications director for the Queens Library, said foot traffic at the central library in Jamaica early in the day was similar to Merrick Boulevard — almost nonexistent — but as the sky cleared up, people started to trickle in.“It’s very odd,” she said. “We’re usually inundated with families and kids when the weather’s bad.”

The Mitchell-Linden branch of Queens Library, at 31-32 Union St. in Flushing, called off its toddlers’ time event Friday morning because nobody showed up, Assistant Branch Manager Jacob Rotkowitz said.

The National Weather Service issued a hazardous weather outlook for the region through Friday night, citing freezing temperatures. Its meteorologists anticipated wind gusts of up to 35 miles per hour bringing single digit temperatures down to minus-5 degrees, with the wind chill.

Frank Skala, a Community Board 11 member, said he was relishing the sunlight warming his Bayside home, now that his heat had been restored after a partial malfunction Friday morning.

“My cat was sitting in my lap and I said, ‘It’s still cold,’ so I went over to the radiator and it was cold,” Skala said.

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