Deep freeze sets in, Chicago digs out

February 3, 2011 8:17:55 PM PST
The cleanup from Chicago's third largest blizzard in history is shifting into high gear. The focus now is clearing the side streets and getting rid of all that snow.

All over the city, some streets are well cleared, others are down to one lane, and some others are entirely blocked.

City officials are encouraging people to limit their time outside when possible, due to the bitter cold. That's not easy considering the city is still digging out from a major storm that coated the area with more than 20 inches of snow in two days.

There are over 9,400 miles of streets in the city of Chicago and 3,300 of those are side streets. So it takes time for the city time to get to every single street.

The streets are clear in Brighton Park, part of the 12th Ward, in part because Alderman George Cardenas has spent about $10,000 of his campaign fund to pay for private plowers.

"Even though we're in an election it is simply the right thing to do. People expect a high-level of service in Chicago," said Cardenas.

On the South Side's 7th Ward, streets are still blocked. Alderman Sandi Jackson is taking a different approach. She's asked the inspector general to investigate how the city's snow-fighting force is deployed.

"I want to know why some wards have more snow plows and some do not," Jackson said. "We are absolutely in the do not and that's not fair."

Officially, this is the city's approach:

"Because we felt the streets are in relatively good shape, we moved 274 trucks to the city side streets after midnight Wednesday, and they are still out there on the streets," said Streets & Sanitation Commissioner Tom Byrne.

Residents also have safety concerns. The street leading to Debra Harris's home on the South Side is impassable. Harris has emphysema, chronic asthma and bronchitis, and the delivery truck has not been able to make it down her block.

"I understand it is a storm, but when you have people in a situation as far as mine, you can make some type of exception to see that we get some type of help," said Harris.

In the meantime, residents on the Far Southeast Side have cleaned the block by themselves.

"I think it's so cool the neighbors came together," said Sophia Necak.

In the Old Irving Park neighborhood, it was hard to find a plowed street Thursday afternoon. Despite that, some were willing to wait.

"I understand that they can't get here yet but hopefully they will be here by the weekend," said Sharon Vojacek, Northwest Side resident.

Others were anxious to move their cars out, and once the digging begins, the tradition of "dibs" begins.

"This has been so bad that I'm going to do it," said Stan Hernandez, Northwest Side resident, who put two chairs in a spot.

Northern suburbs send plows out in full force

In Skokie, the village is completing a first run of plowing through 75 miles of back alleys after getting the snow off of most of its 180 miles of roadways.

"We're still immersed in the operations. We have been going around the clock since Tuesday. There certainly will be significant budgetary impacts for us," said Max Slankerd, Skokie Public Works Dept.

A virtually empty works yard with depleted salt piles and vehicles loaned by local car dealerships combine as testaments to the work going on in Skokie and other northern municipalities where as much as 25 inches of snow fell.

"I'm ecstatic. I can't wait to go call my husband and tell him he can park in the back," said Judy Goodfriend.

Excess snow is being piled up in a parking lot at Oakton Park. It will triple in size before the winter is out.

"People are always frustrated when they get plowed in, with the amount of on-street parking in Skokie, we have a lot of cars that get plow windrows up against them and in this event, it is significant. People get frustrated with driveways being plowed in. We all recognize that, but it's the nature of things," said Slankerd.

In Evanston, they're sending excess snow to Ryan Field, home of the Northwestern Wildcats. In warmer times, tailgaters roost there. Now the portable snow melter dissolves massive loads and sends the water into the sewer system.

"The forecasting was phenomenal. I mean, we used the weather service and paid attention to what happens in terms of the TV stations. We're constantly monitoring the weather and having that information ahead of time certainly helped with scheduling our people, you know, we really had an opportunity to get a lot of our resources in place well in advance of the storm," said Suzette Robisnon, Evanston Public Works Dept.

Bridgeport residents begin cleanup

"You got a couple old ladies there. Another 90-year-old lady lives on the corner. Just trying to help everybody out, get them out of the snow and everything," said Hector Pineda, who was helping dig out his neighbors Thursday.

"There had to be about 25 people out here helping, and one of the neighbors had a Bobcat, and he came, and they did help everybody out. I was in shock," said Tom Bulanda, Bridgeport resident.

Maurice Banks also benefited from the sense of community. Moments after he got stuck trying to park his car Thursday morning, three of his neighbors showed up to help.

"Everybody just came out of nowhere. I really appreciate it. These guys helped me out," said Banks.

"We plowed the whole street, the alley, everything, yesterday, four or five neighbors," said Paul Jenkins.

While residents have banded together, there's still only so much they or the city can do. For one, there's no place to put all of the snow. There are virtual mountains of the white stuff everywhere, with only the smallest strip of sidewalk cleared to walk through.

Many dug out their vehicles as soon as the snow stopped, but others haven't even begun to make a dent in what will no doubt become an even harder job--now that the snow is icing up.

"Today I plan on taking step by step and digging out the car, and I came out yesterday, and it was cold enough, and I know it's colder today," said Katie Boydston, Bridgeport resident.

People's Gas put out a press release reminding residents to remove the snow from their gas meters. If you don't, they can freeze up, and it will impede the flow of gas into the home.

Elmhurst residents dig out

Calm conditions and bright sunshine were allowing crews to clean up in west suburban Elmhurst. But it was a major undertaking just to dig out a car for resident Della Nicholl.

"Probably digging out for another half hour before I actually get the car out on the street," Nicholl told ABC7.

Nearly every street in Elmhurst has been plowed, but moving the snow out of the downtown area is going to take several days.

"In Elmhurst, we are a little unique in that our business districts, we plow the snow to the center of the street. And then at night, we use large snow blower mounted on a frontend loader. We blow it in the semi tractor-trailers and haul the snow to the Elmhurst Chicago stone quarry," said Jim Hirakawa, Elmhurst Public Works.

For those commuters taking Metra, there are still a lot of headaches to overcome.

"My car is caught in my driveway, so I had to walk to the train," said Angie Caputo, rail commuter.

"They had a lot of warnings with trains just running late and they're all backed up, so I decided to wait a little bit, take a later train," said Charles Ingle, rail commuter.

As if the blizzard wasn't bad enough, a serious accident caused a delay in snow removal.

"He hit the fire hydran. It broke the water main in four locations. What made that difficult is the same people driving the snow trucks had to fix a water main break," said Hirakawa.

With the bitterly cold conditions, roadways will remain snow-packed and very slippery.

CPS, City Colleges to reopen Friday

The head of Chicago Public Schools said classes will be in session Friday, but buses will not run until Monday. Emergency Closings

Terry Mazany said at the height of the storm 47 CPS schools were without power. Mazany said the system worked with ComEd to restore power.

"Our greatest concern has been the loss of power in 26 of our schools, that is especially important given the drop in temperatures that is predicted, and we are working very closely with ComEd -- that has been a terrific partner-- to make sure that we are able to restore power and not experience freezing pies and bursting pipes. That would further delay the opening of our buildings," said a CPS official.

ComEd said power has been restored to virtually all customers. At the height of the storm 182,000 were left in the dark.

A spokesperson for Chicago City Colleges said they will reopen Friday as well.