Blizzard evokes memories of Hurricane Sandy in New York

Saturday February 9, 2013

NEW YORK -- It was a "routine blizzard" bearing down, not a superstorm, but New Yorkers couldn’t help but think about Sandy in the face of a snow-laden nor’easter.

"I think it might even be worse than Sandy," said Chip Gomes, a construction worker who took shelter from the snow in a 7-Eleven in White Plains as he waited for a bus. "There’s going to be flooding, right? I heard high winds. Plus, this time we got snow."

Indeed, there was snow. It started Friday morning and quickly caused problems with the first couple of inches, and another foot or so was predicted for parts of the metropolitan area and upstate by Saturday.

Airlines abandoned most plans to fly to or from New York’s airports until Saturday, canceling more than 2,300 flights, and the airports stopped flights by the evening, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said as he declared a state of emergency. City subways were running and were expected to continue throughout the night, he said.

Most schools -- but not New York City’s -- closed early or didn’t bother to open. Cars crashed on slippery roads in the city and its suburbs. In Poughkeepsie, a 74-year-old man died after being struck by a car on a snowy street.

Commuter lines ran extra trains out of the city for workers leaving Manhattan early, but Amtrak canceled service to the north.

The storm also forced the postponement of two "disaster recovery" workshops in the suburbs at which the Federal Emergency Management Agency planned to help homeowners and businesses still recovering from the superstorm in October.

On Staten Island, at a tent shelter set up for Sandy victims still living without power, volunteers used tarps and a makeshift drain to keep the bad weather out. Manager Donna Graziano said she feared the new storm would keep her regulars away.

"A lot of residents don’t have the means to cook anything," she said. "I’m sure for tonight they’ll make arrangements, but it’s heartbreaking to me because I hear their cries every day. I give them their hugs."

Forecasters and officials took pains to say the kind of damage that Sandy caused was not in the offing. State Director of Operations Howard Glaser said the storm was in some ways a "routine blizzard."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said nothing like the October storm surge, which flooded parts of Manhattan, was expected. He stressed that no evacuations were being ordered.

"Sandy was a big storm that was devastating to a lot of people," the mayor said. "I don’t think this storm is going to do that."

Nevertheless, in coastal areas of Queens and Long Island, not nearly recovered yet from last year’s storm, memories were easily stirred.

"A little snow doesn’t scare me," said Leeann Rivera, 43, stocking up at the only major grocery store still open in the Sandy-ravaged Far Rockaway section of Queens. "But if we were talking about the type of damage that Sandy did, I’d be gone. I would leave New York right now."

In Lindenhurst, Eddie Malone said he was frightened by the specter of more damage to his house, which has been under renovation since the October storm "wiped out" his first floor.

"I’m not afraid of the snow -- instead, the sea surge, it may be 7 feet," said Malone. "I think Sandy was 12 or 13 feet, but 7 feet scares me. ... We had no power for two weeks and now I’m afraid we are going to lose it again."

In Lawrence, as he headed for a Sabbath service with two of his children, David Spira gestured to where the storm surge from Sandy reached the door of his house and said the new storm made him fearful.

"This is scarier than before Sandy," he said. "We’re prepared -- we have flashlights -- but we’re scared. But we’re doing what we need to do, going to Shabbat.

Douglas Beman, 30, of Greenburgh, was thinking of Sandy -- and the long gas lines that followed it -- as he filled his Tahoe and a 5-gallon gas can at a Mobil station.

"Sandy taught me this lesson," he said. "Stock up on gasoline."

Bloomberg said the experience of the superstorm helped city workers mobilize and work together. He said they were out in force to protect the homeless and remove stalled vehicles from streets. Water rescue units were on standby in low-lying areas prone to flooding, just in case, he said.

"Everybody’s gung-ho," he said. "We’re ready for anything."

Consolidated Edison spokesman Alfonso Quiroz said the utility had added hundreds of workers from other companies and would have "an army or crews out there to make restorations."

He said the flooding that ravaged the power system during Sandy wasn’t anticipated, but heavy snow was likely to take down some trees and the power lines near them, especially in Staten Island and Westchester.

By evening there were more than 9,000 statewide customers without power, mostly on Long Island.

National Grid, which took over storm preparations from the Long Island Power Authority after LIPA was lambasted for its Sandy problems, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

David Stark, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said parts of the city were under a coastal flood advisory, and winds of up to 55 mph prompted a blizzard warning for part of Long Island, but he too said, "This is not a situation like Sandy. This is more typical of a classic Nor’easter."

Snowfall predictions were 8 to 12 inches in the city, 10 to 15 in the lower Hudson Valley and 12 to 16 on Long Island.

Depths of 6 to 18 inches were forecast upstate. Poughkeepsie and Binghamton declared snow emergencies. In New York City, Bloomberg said he expected most streets would be more than passable by morning. "I see no reason to declare an emergency," the mayor said.

Meanwhile, the show went on at New York’s Fashion Week, although designer Michael Kors was forced to arrive at the Project Runway show on Friday in Uggs.

"I came in looking like Pam Anderson," he joked backstage, after the offending boots had been traded for tasteful black leather.

Marc Jacobs postponed his Monday night show until Thursday, citing delivery problems, but for the most part the Fashion Week schedule was on course. Organizers arranged for more heat at the main venue at Lincoln Center and were considering extra layers of tenting outside.


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