With yet more snow and bitter cold in the forecast, the region mobilized Wednesday to recover from a record-setting barrage of winter blasts, as National Guardsmen fanned out to assist hard-hit communities.
In Braintree, Cohasset, and other South Shore towns, four-person teams cleared fire hydrants, while front-end loaders and dump trucks hauled away piles in Ipswich and Hull.
“The idea is to get as much of this out of here before more comes,” said Peter Judge, a spokesman for the state’s emergency management agency. “But obviously this is not going to be a quick fix.”
With a storm looming, time was of the essence. While light snow was expected Thursday, Friday was forecast to be bitterly cold, and the weekend could well bring another blast.
“All signs point to yes for a significant, plowable snow Saturday into Sunday,” said Benjamin Sipprell, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
In Boston — and in most other communities — students returned to class Wednesday for the first time this week. But Somerville closed its schools for the remainder of the week because of safety concerns related to snow-laden roofs.
“We cannot safely allow our students, teachers, and community members into our schools until this snow is cleared, and we cannot safely remove roof snow with the buildings open due to the danger from falling snow and ice,” said Joseph Curtatone, the city’s mayor.
According to state officials, 200 to 300 pieces of heavy equipment and crews from five states began arriving on Wednesday at a staging area at Hanscom Air Base. The crews will be dispatched across the state as needed starting early Thursday morning, officials said.
Speaking at a press conference Wednesday evening at the Bedford base, Governor Charlie Baker said the crews will be sent to cities and towns as requests come in, and that more than 100 requests have already been received.
“We’ve got a lot of people working with local folks,” he said. “It’s very gratifying to get this kind of support.”
Baker said the heavy equipment will be used to clear snow and improve sight lines on major roadways, while small bobcat tractors will be used on narrow streets and sidewalks.
Crews from New York City, New York state, New Jersey, Maine, Pennsylvania, and Vermont were arriving, with help from Delaware expected on Thursday.
Calling the accumulation of snow “unprecedented,” Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Director Kurt Schwartz said crews would stay at local hotels, and are committed to staying for the next two weeks.
He said Massachusetts will foot the bill for the crews’ costs.
On a day when MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott announced she would resign, the transit system reopened Wednesday, although wait times were twice as long as usual and many passengers endured terrible commutes.
At North Station on Wednesday morning, riders looked worn out, even though the day was just beginning.
“Tough morning,” said Gary Spezzafero, 45, of Stoneham. He had tried to catch a train in Wakefield, but it was so cold he decided to take an outbound train to Reading before boomeranging back to North Station.
“Just to stay warm,” he said. “There’s no shelter out there.”
He was waiting for a Green Line train to the Financial District, but was starting to think it would be faster to walk. At least he’d be making progress.
Patricia White, 55, had taken the commuter rail from Salem, and was waiting at North Station for an Orange or Green Line train to Boston Children’s Hospital. She had done a lot of waiting recently, and it was taking a toll.
“I’m getting pretty drained,” she said. She wished the T could get its act together, but didn’t seem optimistic. An Orange Line train finally arrived, but it was crammed full. White and others turned her hopes to the other side of the tracks.
On the commuter rails, riders faced extensive delays, and many trains were filled to capacity. Drivers also headed back to work in force, snarling traffic.
“There are pretty heavy volumes on the Expressway,’’ Frank DePaola, chief of operations for the state’s Transportation Department. “I think it’s going to be a full population today in the metro Boston area.’’
The series of powerful storms has put a heavy strain on local cities and towns.
Earlier this week, Baker called up 500 members of the Massachusetts National Guard to help with snow removal efforts.
Several other Northeast states have lent Massachusetts snow-removal equipment to accelerate the pace of recovery, including 50 dumptrucks, 26 front-end loaders, and four backhoes, and they will be deployed Thursday.
More than 80 communities have requested help, Judge said.
“In some cases they need equipment, in other cases they need people,” he said.
Three teams of Guardsmen were bound for Worcester, which was walloped with almost 70 inches of snow in two weeks. Mayor Joseph Petty said the city could use the help.
“We're trying to do our best,” he said. “But some hydrants are packed with two weeks of snow on top of them.”
The storms have sapped Worcester’s $4 million snow-removal budget and then some, he said.
South of Boston, in Quincy, the city was quickly running out of room to put all the snow, and was considering — like Boston and nearly 30 other towns and cities — dumping some in nearby waters. Crews remained busy widening the secondary roads as much as possible.
“Unfortunately there is no other way to deal with it than trucking it,” said Chris Walker, policy director for the Quincy’s mayor’s office.
In Hull, guardsmen helped crews clear Beach Avenue, along the peninsula, Pemberton Point, the site of commuter ferry service, and other areas.
Private First Class Christopher Fitzsimmons spent hours hauling away snow in a 10-ton dump truck. The endless piles of snow were bound for the ocean.
“I’ve never seen anything like this to be honest with you,” said Fitzsimmons, a member of the Guard’s 379th Engineer Company. “And I’ve lived in Massachusetts my whole life.”