NYC Snow ‘Overwhelmed’ Emergency System, Mayor Says

NYC Emergency Response 'Overwhelmed' by Blizzard
Bystanders and emergency workers push an ambulance stuck on a side street in Brooklyn. Photographer: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

New York City’s emergency system was “overwhelmed” by the Dec. 26 blizzard that dumped 20 inches of snow, leaving vehicles marooned and ambulances unable to reach the sick, injured and dying, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

“You can give us any grade you want,” Bloomberg told reporters at a press conference at a Bronx hardware store today. “We did not do as good a job as we wanted to do, or as the city has the right to expect.”

The city’s 911 emergency-response system received 49,478 calls on Dec. 27, the sixth-largest number ever, and Bloomberg promised an inquiry after the snow is cleared.

“I am extremely dissatisfied with the way our emergency-response systems performed,” Bloomberg said. “In some cases it took hours to respond to serious requests.”

The mayor said the problem was exacerbated by people who didn’t heed his message to call 911 only for emergencies.

“Unfortunately, many people didn’t listen, and that overwhelmed the system,” he said.

Almost all the city’s main roads were passable by midday, the mayor said, while in some outlying neighborhoods nearly three-fourths of smaller roads were still covered.

Dead Baby

A woman who gave birth in a Brooklyn apartment building waited 90 minutes for an ambulance to reach her. When it did, the newborn baby was dead, according to Frank Dwyer, a Fire Department spokesman.

“Just because an ambulance gets there doesn’t mean you can save a person,” the mayor said when asked about the incident. “Delivery of an ambulance doesn’t guarantee that medical help can get to do what you need to have done.”

In Queens, Yvonne Freeman, 75, died when she had difficulty breathing and her daughter, Laura, couldn’t reach a 911 operator. After a neighbor was able to get through, an ambulance took more than 2½ hours to arrive, with emergency responders trudging through the snow on foot to reach her home, the Daily News reported.

The biggest difference between this storm and others that hit the city in the past few years was the large number of stuck cars, trucks and buses, which made street-clearing more difficult, he said. More than 600 buses were stalled in snow yesterday, Bloomberg said.

Most roads will be cleared by 7 p.m. today, Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty said at the press conference. By 7 a.m. tomorrow, all the city’s streets will be plowed, he said. At the event, Bloomberg backed Doherty, calling him the best sanitation commissioner the city has ever had.


More than 20 inches (50.8 centimeters) of snow fell in Central Park from Dec. 26 through the early hours of Dec. 27, making it the sixth-largest snowfall on record for the city, said Michael Schlacter, chief meteorologist at New York-based Weather 2000 Inc., a commercial forecasting firm. The post-Christmas storm led to the cancellation of almost 8,000 flights.

City Council President Christine Quinn, a political ally of the mayor, called for hearings on the blizzard reaction on Jan. 10.

“The collective storm response was not anywhere near up to the standards New Yorkers are accustomed to,” Quinn said in a statement. “This is unacceptable. New Yorkers have serious questions about the city’s snow emergency policy and response.”

The Daily News headlined its coverage of the mayor’s response today: “Bloomberg to City: Snow Sorry.”

‘Best He Can’

The slow recovery is unlikely to hurt the third-term mayor the way a 15-inch blizzard in 1969 damaged the political fortunes of former Mayor John Lindsay, said Hank Sheinkopf, a political consultant in New York. Lindsay was jeered as his limousine tried to make it through the snow in Queens, where residents said he gave favored treatment to Manhattan.

“Tough times mean tough budget cuts result in a reduced labor force, and a third term results in a mayor everyone loves to kick around,” Sheinkopf said in an interview. “Does he deserve the kicking? No. With reduced budgets and reduced funding, he’s doing the best he can.”

Sheinkopf said he isn’t working for the mayor.

The city’s troubles were compounded by some of the worst aspects of winter weather, Schlacter said.

“You really can’t ask for much more of a challenging snow storm,” he said today in an interview. “This is kind of a combination of the three worst factors -- high winds, pre-chilled ground and an awful lot of snow. It’s kind of a horrendous combination of factors.”

Removal Costs

New York spends about $1 million to remove an inch of snow, said Jason Post, a spokesman for the mayor. Based on that, the city has spent more than $20 million so far, more than half its $38 million snow budget for the current fiscal year. A full accounting won’t come until after the city finishes the job, he said.

New York City’s projected budget deficit for fiscal 2012 may widen by $2 billion, to $4.5 billion, because cuts in state aid may be greater than forecast, Budget Director Mark Page said Dec. 6.

The slow storm recovery is hitting the profits of Shawki Assad, manager of a Met Foods supermarket on Cortelyou Road in Brooklyn’s Kensington neighborhood. Snow closed the store Dec. 27 and delivery trucks, stopped by unplowed roads and traffic jams on the few passable streets, still can’t resupply him, he said in an interview.

“The question is, can we make it up by the weekend or not,” Assad said. “You have to pay the guys working -- we lost $10,000 to 15,000 so far.”

The mayor is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.

(Corrects to show that meteorologist said storm was sixth-largest on record, not fifth, in 12th paragraph of story published on Dec. 29.)
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