Blizzard yields disaster declaration — and testy Tweets

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy ordered state offices closed Monday to limit traffic in municipalities still struggling to clear local roads of a weekend snow fall that reached a record 40 inches. A major utility offered a bit of good news — the expectation of a complete restoration of power by midnight Sunday.

At his televised 6 p.m. briefing Sunday, the governor urged private employers to let as many workers as possible stay home Monday and warned those who do plan on venturing to the office that surface parking lots have lost half their capacity. On-street parking will be nonexistent, especially in cities.

“I think everyone needs to take a long, hard look at ride-sharing, even if you don’t like to do that,” Malloy said.

In Hartford, Mayor Pedro Segarra followed the governor’s example, closing city offices and schools. Two years ago, the return of commuters to an unprepared city after a heavy January snowfall snarled streets around the State Capitol, requiring 45 minutes to traverse a few blocks at a time.

Finch Tweets

Government by Tweets

Like many mayors, Segarra resorted to social media to commiserate and ask for cooperation. Twitter offered a real-time window into the travails of the post-blizzard cleanup.

“Hartford is still under a State of Emergency. Know it’s frustrating but please stay home. The more cars out, the longer it takes us 2 clean,” Segarra said on Twitter.

In Bridgeport, Mayor Bill Finch pleaded for patience, using his Twitter feed to keep in touch with an increasingly restive populace — and to make calls for tow trucks.

“Plows doing what they can @cityofbptct,” Finch said in a Tweet on Sunday afternoon. “Must work in tandem with bucket loaders to remove record snow 5′-7′ drifts and abandonded [sic] cars.”

“This is serious please b patient. Public servants working round the clock,” he said in another Tweet.

In Danbury, Mayor Mark Boughton used his Twitter feed to answer questions, give updates, soothe constituents and, at times, crack wise.

After fielding objections about a decision to close schools Monday, Boughton posted a series of Tweets about unlikely late openings, including this one:

“Attention: Star Fleet Academy is on a 90 minute delay. All Klingon instructors report at your normal time.

Malloy, who was mayor of Stamford for 14 years, seemed to feel for the mayors.

“We want to hold down traffic tomorrow,” Malloy said about his closing state offices. “And we do it because we understand a number of municipalities are behind cleaning, and we don’t want to contribute to their difficulties.”

Malloy, who visited with municipal public works crews in Hamden, acknowledged the frustration bubbling over on the many streets still unplowed or barely passable, including some on the outskirts of the central business district in Hartford.

“The point is everyone is working hard,” Malloy said.

But, as Finch noted in one of his Tweets, Malloy warned that snow on some streets is too deep and too heavy for plows, especially where the snowfall reached 40 inches, gusty winds created even higher snow drifts, and abandoned cars complicated the work of snow-removal crews.

“Moving snow piles will require heavier equipment,” Malloy said.

Boughton Tweets

Some exchanges are testy.

Malloy was not immune to pleas for help via Twitter:

please come see the madness in New haven Snow Plows and tractors haven’t even looked at us! Still 30 in under snow.”

The state expects its own highways will be clear enough that the state Department of Transportation will be able to release 65 front-loaders Monday, providing badly needed reinforcements for overwhelmed municipal public works departments.

Segarra said he expected all side streets in Hartford to be cleared by Monday morning, but the mix of deep snow and parked cars is slowing work.

“As I feared, the low temperatures delayed our efforts last night but we’ve had a fleet of 22 trucks, 4 pay loaders, 3 smaller pay loaders and a contingent of contractors working since 7am. At the moment, it’s taking an average of 90 minutes for 2 trucks and a pay loader to clean a side street, but 6 hours for two trucks,” he said Sunday.

Hartford towed 189 vehicles, he said.

The Obama administration quickly approved Malloy’s request for disaster aid Sunday, meaning the municipalities could be reimbursed for up to 75 percent of some storm-related expenses. But Malloy conceded that municipalities are probably more interested in finding additional heavy equipment.

“Everyone needs equipment. There is precious little to lend,” Malloy said.

Across the state, there were scattered reports of neighbors organizing convoys of snow blowers to clear their side streets.

A bright spot in the briefing came from Bill Quinlan, a senior official at Connecticut Light & Power, the state’s largest utility and a major target of ire from consumers and municipal officials after prolonged blackouts in 2011 and 2012.

Quinlan reported that power has been restored to 60,000 customers, with 7,000 still out, mainly in the hard-hit coastal communities of southeastern Connecticut.

He said the goal was to finish restoration by midnight, allowing CL&P to redeploy crews to harder-hit areas of Massachusetts.