Hours after the snow stopped, countless streets around the city were unplowe – causing a dangerous backlog in emergency responses and drawin outrage.
The 911 system was overwhelmed, and sources said it took nearly an hour at the height of the storm for ambulances to respond to strokes and heart attacks. A Brooklyn woman in labor waited four hours for help.
More than 100 ambulances were stuck in the snow, the head of the EMT union said.
The FDNY said that as of late Monday afternoon, it had a backlog of 1,300 less urgent requests that weren’t answered due to a deluge of calls and impassable roads.
Still, Mayor Bloomberg insisted the city had it all under control.
“There’s no reason for everybody to panic,” he said as criticism poured in. “Our city is doing exactly what you’d want it do.”
Across the city, buses and cars were sidelined in drifts, and even snowplows were frozen into place. The mayor said only Mother Nature was to blame.
“Snow removal is being handled by the best professionals in the business,” he said defensively.
“Snow fell at a furious rate of 2 or 3 inches an hour, and that really presents a serious challenge to snow-plowing efforts.”
His excuses didn’t fly where plows seemed as rare as spaceships, mainly outside Manhattan.
“Obviously something went astray this time,” Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz said. “Our side streets in every part of Brooklyn are frankly not touched. Many of our main streets haven’t been plowed and salted.”
By afternoon, the condemnation was mounting.
State Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn) slammed the removal effort as a “colossal failure” that put “countless lives at risk.”
He compared the blizzard to the 1969 storm that nearly destroyed the career of Mayor John Lindsay. Bloomberg may have had that kind of political fallout in mind as he hastily scheduled photo ops in Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens.
City Council Sanitation Committee Chairwoman Letitia James (D-Brooklyn) said she will hold hearings on the mess, saying, “It appears there are not enough men and women representing sanitation and … EMS on the ground.”
The sanit workers union blamed recent staff reductions, saying hiring freezes have cut crews by at least 400 workers since last year.
“I understand the money is tight, [but] there are some services you’ve got to be ready for,” said Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association President Harry Nespoli.
He also grumbled that the tires of some snowplows didn’t have chains, causing them to get stuck.
Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty disputed both claims.
“We had the same number of people in 1996,” Doherty said, adding that he pulled supervisors and sanitation police from their usual posts to man plows.
Officials blamed whipping winds Sunday night that blew snow onto roads as fast as crews could clear them – and drivers who got stuck, blocking the streets.
Doherty was among those who got stuck. While checking on plowing progress at 4 a.m. in Brooklyn, he swerved into a snowbank and couldn’t get out until a passerby pitched in with a shovel.
Photos by Baruch Ezagui for COLlive.com