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Chaos grips Queens after blizzard hits

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Elected officials announced they will be taking a long look at the city’s blizzard preparations because they contend the mayor dropped the ball and allowed the borough to suffer a winter paralysis after Mother Nature dumped more than a foot of snow on Queens Sunday.

Council members Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), who chairs the Public Safety committee, Elizabeth Crowley (D-Ridgewood), who chairs the Fire and Criminal Justice Services committee, Letitia James (D-Brooklyn), who chairs the Sanitation and Solid Waste Management committee, and James Vacca (D-Bronx), have scheduled an oversight hearing Jan. 10 to scrutinize the city’s clean-up efforts in the outer boroughs.

“New Yorkers have serious questions about the city’s snow emergency policy and response. We in the Council will seek forward-looking answers on behalf of our constituents,” City Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) said in a statement.

The National Weather Service reported 16 inches of snow fell at John F. Kennedy International Airport and 13 inches fell at LaGuardia Airport between Sunday and Monday mornings.

The storm not only grounded flights at both airports on both days, it also wreaked havoc for drivers, pedestrians and straphangers who were caught in the middle of the blizzard.

Plows were unable to make it through many of the streets in the borough, including Queens Boulevard where the snow was too deep to navigate and where dozens of cars were stuck or abandoned by their drivers. A man driving a Hummer could not get past a Forest Hills street Monday morning despite the vehicle’s powerful engine.

“It’s what, 32 degrees out, and I’m sweating because I’ve been shoveling for so long,” said Daniel Chao, 31, who took three hours to dig out his car in Woodside.

The mayor said the Sanitation Department was trying to do its best with road conditions, and it was able to clear most major streets and highways by Monday evening.

“Nobody suggests that this is easy. Nobody suggests that this is pleasurable. But I can tell you this: We are doing everything that we can think of, working as hard as we can,” Bloomberg said.

Several elected officials were fuming, however, that Queens streets were still unplowed as late as Tuesday afternoon.

Vallone said neither he nor his staffers could get to his office Monday, but his constituents flooded his Facebook page with complaints about impassable streets.

He said major streets in Astoria, including Ditmars Boulevard, were covered in feet of snow and posed a safety risk not only to pedestrians and motorists but also to first responders who could not get to emergencies in time. The councilman said some first responders took as long as three hours to reach their destinations and the 911 system was backlogged with more than a thousands calls.

“They managed to get to side streets in every other storm we had. This one was no different than the others,” he said.

There was apparently one fatality related to the blocked roads, according to Steve Stites, a representative for Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone). The spokesman said officers at the 109th Precinct informed him that a man suffered a fatal heart attack in northeast Queens when an ambulance took three hours to get to his location.

The Long Island Railroad and AirTrain suspended their services most of both days after above-ground tracks were covered in snow and the rails were frozen over. On Tuesday morning, thousands of LIRR users waited for hours in the cold as service was severely delayed in both directions.

“In all previous snowstorms, I would say this is this the worst,” one Bayside man said while waiting for a westbound train at the neighborhood’s LIRR stop Tuesday afternoon. “It’s 2 o’clock now, I missed the 12 o’clock train, what I heard is I just missed it. I’m cold, very cold.”

Although city buses were running, many lines also had long delays because of the dangerous road conditions and blocked streets. Three buses were abandoned on 39th Avenue between 61st and 65th streets when it became clear they could not traverse the road.

Subway lines were also running, but lines on elevated tracks such as the 7, N, Q and A trains experienced significant delays.

One Manhattan bound A train was stuck for seven hours between the Howard Beach and Rockaway Boulevard stations, leaving straphangers to wait with no heat in their cars until a tow train came to rescue them. Many of those riders were heading out of JFK Airport.

The storm that pounded most of the East Coast came down fast Sunday morning and did not let up for nearly 24 hours.

Some homeowners who tried to get an early start on plowing their sidewalks and digging out their cars were unsuccessful since wind gusts of nearly 70 miles per hour kept blowing the snow back on their clear driveways.

“It’s a lot of snow. I hope the weather warms up. But it could be worse,” said Astoria resident Colin Rivera, who was shoveling snow on 31st Street and 20th Avenue.

The winds also knocked down power lines and left thousands without electricity for most of Monday, according to Con Edison. Roughly 4,100 customers in Flushing, Maspeth and Glen Oaks lost their power, but it was restored the next morning, Con Ed spokeswoman D. Joy Saber said.

Numerous businesses and offices, including the Queens Public Library, were closed since their employees could not get to work.

For some, the winter wonderland was far from an annoyance.

Kids and teens who were already off from school for the holidays took to streets and parks for some fun in the snow.

Assam Kamar, 14, of Woodside, got into a huge snowball battle with his siblings and friends.

“It’s fun except for when my brother smacked me in the face with ice,” he said while playing on Woodside Avenue.

Yiyang Xia, 17, moved with his family to Forest Hills from Shanghai recently and went to Flushing Meadows Corona Park to enjoy the outdoors with his mother. The teen said he had never seen such a snowfall in his native country.

“It’s so big,” he said as he looked at the park from the 64th Avenue overpass. “It really is beautiful.”

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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