Thousands of people in New York remain snowed in after the east coast of America was struck by a dramatic blizzard between Sunday and Monday, with up to 32 inches of snow falling in a single night.
The city’s roads are filled with disgruntled residents attempting to clear enormous drifts with shovels, while local media are packed with desperate pleas for help. Several parts of the city are at a complete standstill, with buried vehicles strewn across streets and train lines covered with huge snow drifts.
One of the infant fatality came after a newborn baby, delivered inside the lobby of a snowbound Brooklyn building, died. “No one could get to her. Crown Heights was not plowed, and no medical aid came for hours,” the student’s mother told local reporters.
By the time a horde of firefighters and cops finally trooped to her aid through snow-covered blocks, the baby was unconscious and unresponsive, sources said.
The baby’s mother, a 22-year-old college senior, was recovering Tuesday night at Interfaith Medical Center, where her newborn was pronounced dead at 6:34 p.m. on Monday. That was 10 hours after the first 911 call from the bloody vestibule on Brooklyn Ave. in Crown Heights.
Residents of the borough, which is New York’s most populated, complain that they have been particularly badly served while responders clear Manhattan.
As other horror stories have emerged, including emergency calls not being dealt with for 24 hours and people being stuck with the bodies of dead relatives, a fierce backlash grew against other regional politicians.
A woman in Brooklyn was forced to spend the night with her dead father after the medical examiner’s office took more than 24 hours to claim his body. Ismael Vazquez died at 10:31 a.m. on Monday, and the 82-year-old man’s body remained in his bed until 1 p.m. on Tuesday.
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 EMS workers walked down the block trudging through snow,” Laura Freeman said. “They tried. I could tell by the look on their faces. I really would just like [Mayor] Bloomberg to admit that there were casualties.”
One woman whose 72-year-old husband almost died from a heart attack but was pulled to hospital on a sled by neighbours said: “The mayor acts like this is a minor inconvenience. Makes me sick.”
Mr Bloomberg’s officials said the city did not own enough snow ploughs or tow-trucks to deal with the storm’s aftermath and private firms had shut down between Christmas and the new year.
The mayor first reacted angrily to claims the response was inadequate and vigorously defended emergency staff. “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.
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.
Critics said the reputation of Mr Bloomberg, a popular figure often forced to deny he has presidential ambitions, could be permanently tarnished, like that of John Lindsay, a predecessor who was almost ejected from office soon after after badly mishandling a storm in 1969.
Even local allies have raced to distance themselves from Mr Bloomberg’s response. Christie Quinn, the speaker of the city council, said it was “not anywhere near up to the standards New Yorkers are accustomed to”.
Mr Bloomberg said the sheer scale of the snowfall was simply overwhelming. He dismissed statistics indicating that a storm four years ago actually brought a greater amount of snow. “This storm is not like any other we’ve had to deal with, including the big blizzard of 2006,” he said.
Chris Christie, the governor of neighbouring New Jersey and a potential Republican presidential candidate, was criticised for leaving his snowbound state for a family holiday at Disney World in Florida.
While New York’s airports cleared their runways and reopened after a day, a huge backlog of flight cancellations has left thousands of holidaymakers stranded for several days. [via The Telegraph (UK), Bloomberg and NY Daily News; photo by Jim Crossley via Flickr]