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Mayor Menino apologizes for clogged Boston streets

Travel curtailed, schools closed in city and beyond

More than two days after the last snowflakes fell, Mayor Thomas M. Menino expressed frustration Monday at the pace of snow removal and said he was sorry that some of Boston’s side streets remained clogged and impassable.

“I apologize for it,” Menino said in an interview, when asked what he would say to people whose streets are still snowed in. “We’ll get there as quickly as possible. Sometimes you have to be patient in a storm of this magnitude.”

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Across the state, the impact of the powerful storm continued to upend people’s lives in ways large and small, starting with a difficult morning commute. Tens of thousands ­remained without power, most on the South Shore and Cape Cod.

A parking ban remained in force Tuesday for major Boston thoroughfares. Schools will reopen in Cambridge, but Boston, Somerville, and other systems canceled classes for a third day because officials worried that towering snow banks could make it dangerous for children getting on and off buses.

Summer Street in Charlestown

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Unplowed after the weekend storm, Summer Street in Charlestown remained impassable with snow Monday.

“We’re confident the school buildings will be ready, but it’s the access, the high berms of snow,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone of Somerville. “The decision is grounded in public safety, especially that of small children, who we don’t want to put in harm’s way.”

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About 500 Massachusetts residents were still in shelters Monday evening, down from a high of around 1,500. “People are working their way back to their homes,” said Peter Judge, spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

Governor Deval Patrick toured Scituate, the seaside town that bore the full fury of the storm, and heard accounts of flooded homes.

“The amount of debris over the sea walls is an extraordinary thing to see,” Patrick said, adding that much more work was needed to bring the state back to normalcy.

In Cohasset, half the town remained without power, and the 7,500 residents had been asked to use water sparingly ­because a generator failed at the water treatment plant. In Rockport, roads had been cleared of snow, but some low-lying streets remained blocked by boulders and other debris.

Commuters endured a dizzying obstacle course of towers of snow and puddles of slush.

In Boston, black asphalt shone wetly on main thoroughfares, but lanes had been narrowed by snow mountains that swallowed parking spots and loomed over pedestrians trying to negotiate the unpredictable terrain.

The cowpath-like side streets fared much worse, constricted by man-sized mounds of snow that reduced traffic to single lanes. On some roads, drivers had to swerve around snow hills and buried cars like a slalom course, and it seemed faster to walk. Parts of Roxbury, Charlestown, and Chinatown remained frozen in snow.

For unburied cars, parking proved nearly impossible. Public transportation remained limited. By day’s end, walking required wading through ankle-­deep pools of slush from rain and warmer temperatures.

“I have high expectations when it comes it snow removal in the city; some of it did not meet my expectations,” Menino said. “I want every street plowed within an hour after the storm. It didn’t happen.”

The challenge was straightforward but daunting: Almost 25 inches of snow fell in 24 hours, an onslaught that ranked fifth on Boston’s all-time list. In a city originally built for the horse, where parked cars line narrow streets and front yards are called sidewalks, there was simply no place to put all that snow.

For most storms, plows can clear roads by shoving snow to the side. This blizzard, however, dumped so much snow that on Monday the city deployed what officials described as “snow strike forces,” a fleet of front-end loaders and dump trucks to clear key thoroughfares such as Harrison Avenue, Washington Street near Egleston Square, and Columbia Road from ­Uphams Corner to Blue Hill ­Avenue. Snow-melting ­machines worked all night in Forest Hills and at the intersection of Charles and Boylston streets.

“When you get 25 inches of snow, you can’t just leave it there,” said public works commissioner, Joanne Massaro. “It’s an arduous process, and we’re not going to get it all done in one shot, but we’re going to do our damn best.”

By 1 p.m. Friday, as the storm began to howl, the city had up to 600 plows, salt spreaders, and other pieces of equipment crisscrossing the city’s 810 miles of roads. The team included roughly 90 city plows and another 400 to 500 private contractors.

Road crews worked through the night and on Saturday with a focus on plowing and salting major arteries as the snow fell, Massaro said. At 5 p.m. Saturday, after cars returned to the road with the lifting of a statewide travel ban, many plow drivers were sent home for a five-hour break. They had ­already stretched federal laws that limit work to 16 hours at a time, Massaro said.

“My guys love this; they live for snow,” Massaro said. “Still, even people who feel like that need to rest. It’s unsafe.”

Emergency crews continued to plow streets, Massaro said, and teams hit roads again at 10 p.m. Saturday and worked through the rest of the weekend. After clearing major arteries, the focus shifted to side streets.

“It was very important to the mayor that we get there,” said Massaro. “I know he was frustrated, and so are we. People want to get out. We spent all night.”

On Monday afternoon, a snow strike force descended on the intersection of L Street and Columbia Road in South ­Boston to remove snow piles that stood taller than passing pedestrians. The team included four hulking dump trucks and two front-end loaders.

Police blocked off the street. The buckets cut like jaws, tearing through piles. Bucket by bucket, the heavy equipment filled dump trucks with frozen slush. The trucks lugged the payload to vacant lots.

It took almost 45 minutes to cut the snow piles to the curb. The work represented just one intersection in a sprawling city clamoring for snow to be gone. Norman Parks, a 26-year ­employee at the Public Works Department who helped supervise the operation, made an acute observation about the challenge ahead.

“It’s a lot of snow,” he said.

Jenna Russell of the Globe staff and correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this report. Andrew Ryan can be reached at acryan@globe.com.
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