In snow’s fury, a duty to work
Shanta Limbu began her day at 5:30 a.m., bending into the wind and slanting snow to make the half-hour trek to her job at Dunkin’ Donuts in Somerville.
“It was windy — really windy — and snowing very hard,” said Limbu, 23. “But I was on the schedule, so I had to work.”
Food service employees such as Limbu were among a select group of Boston-area workers who bore the brunt of the powerful storm that shut down most of the region Tuesday. Despite a general ban on travel and the shuttering of the transit system, retail workers, health care providers, and operations and emergency personnel slogged through snowdrifts and near-whiteout conditions.
Even those workers lucky enough to drive reported sketchy conditions throughout the day.
“It’s nerve-racking,” said Jonathan Rzasa, a field supervisor for Fallon Ambulance Service, who was back on duty early Tuesday morning after just two hours of sleep. “You get the white snow coming off your headlights. Depending on how fast it’s coming down, sometimes you can’t even see the roads.”
Though it delivered on its promise to dump copious amounts of snow on Massachusetts, the storm so far had not proved as destructive as originally feared. Thanks to a light and fluffy snow that did not weigh down tree branches and pull down power lines, utilities reported that only about 30,000 customers, mostly on the Cape and Nantucket, were without power late Tuesday afternoon.
Still, utility officials were nervously watching the tail of the storm and the later high tides, in case Mother Nature dealt a final blow. They had not ruled out nasty surprises and the possibility of more outages, as strong winds stuck around and snow continued to fall late in the day, though not as fast as it was coming down in the morning.
“The weather is still quite bad and we’re preparing for multi-day restorations in some places,” said Jake Navarro, a spokesman for National Grid, the state’s largest utility, with 1.3 million electric customers.
Property damage was similarly limited to coastal areas that were pounded and flooded by surging seas. Residents in Hull, Marshfield, and Scituate, for example, were evacuated as the Atlantic Ocean spilled over and through seawalls. But insur-ance industry officials cautioned homeowners and businesses to be on the watch for later damage, as warming temperatures will make the settled snow heavier, potentially causing roof damage.
Fallen limbs hitting cars and garages, burst pipes, roof damage from snow, flooding, fires caused by portable heaters and generators, and car accidents are among the most common claims filed after severe winter weather, and that probably will happen after this storm, said Thomas Skelly, the past chairman of the Massachusetts Association of Insurance Agents and vice president of Deland, Gibson Insurance Associates in Wellesley.
Health care workers are used to the drill of working long hours during extreme conditions.
“I’ve been here for two days,” said Richard Olden, a 47-year-old orderly at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, who was not expecting to leave anytime soon. “Hopefully, tomorrow half of the crew should be going home; another group will be coming in. I have family at home, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
Meanwhile, many retail outlets, such as supermarkets and big-box stores, were able to assemble skeletal staff to keep some stores open. Walmart stocked up its stores in the Northeast ahead of the storm with emergency supplies such as flashlights, batteries, bottled water, and ready-to-eat food. Most major supermarkets had many, if not all, of their stores open Tuesday.
Coffee shops, convenience stores, sub shops, and even local liquor stores became de facto gathering spots in their neighborhoods.
The Somerville Dunkin’ Donuts where Limbu works was a magnet for plow drivers and city employees, its parking lot crammed with trucks, and drivers clutching hot coffees and swapping storm stories over the rumble of idling diesels.
In Medford, Andy Dang slept in the back of his convenience store Monday night to make sure he could open for customers hungry for supplies and company.
“I know I don’t make a lot of money on days like this but I don’t want to disappoint people,” Dang said, his wife and three children tucked safely at home in Peabody.
In the Ashmont section of Dorchester, Khalid Abboud also felt an obligation to get his Tedeschi Food Shop open by 6 a.m.
“We’re here to help the community,” Abboud said. “There are a lot of people who want bread and milk. . . . They’ve been out shoveling. They need some coffee.”
Maybe not surprisingly, liquor stores reported a brisk business, with many workers on an unexpected day home.
“People are pumped we’re open,” said Justin McInerney of Woody’s Liquors in Somerville, the conversation interrupted by the umpteenth call from customers seeing if the store was open.
“Woody’s,” McInerney said into the phone. “Yes, we are open. . . until 11, normal time. . . all right, take care.”
Across Somerville at Downtown Wine & Spirits, store manager Steve McCloud said small knots of customers were trooping in by the afternoon, mostly for six-packs of beer and bottles of wine.
“I think people are buying less than usual because no one can drive, so you can only purchase what you can carry home in a blizzard,” McCloud said. “You’re not going to walk home with a 30-pack.”