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Blizzard puts New York City in ‘uncharted territory’

Posted at 9:11 PM, Jan 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-23 21:11:10-05

NEW YORK — Natalie DiVecceli stood outside Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Hospital hoping her ride home would show up before the road travel ban in New York City.

“The city’s closing down,” she said.

A paramedic from Queens, DiVecceli said her ambulance had been stuck Saturday morning when the first of the more than 20 inches of snow expected to pound the city began falling.

In the back of the ambulance, DiVecceli’s partner tended to a man with abdominal pains.

DiVecceli asked a group of building workers whether she could borrow a shovel to free the ambulance. The men said no. She “put the gas to the floor” and the ambulance, finally, jumped out of the snow trap, she said.

A 15-minute ambulance ride to a hospital took nearly an hour.

“It could have been life-threatening,” she said.

Forecasters reported six inches of snow in Central Park by 7 a.m. By the afternoon, more than 14 inches had fallen.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency and urged residents to stay home. The snow fell as fast as 3 inches an hour.

The blizzard will almost certainly be among New York City’s “top five snowstorms” in recorded history in terms of accumulation, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

“We’re going into uncharted territory,” de Blasio said.

Buses stopped running at midday, roads closed to all but nonemergency vehicles at 2:30 p.m., elevated train lines were shuttered at 4:30 p.m. and all Broadway matinee and evening performances were canceled. The sound of clanking chains on the wheels of plows replaced the normal din of weekend traffic.

“This is bad, and it’s getting worse rapidly,” de Blasio said.

New York announced three storm-related deaths Saturday — one on Staten Island and two in Queens — with authorities fearing the city’s count would go higher in the days ahead.

Fun with snow, instead of sand

At The Flame Restaurant on Ninth Avenue — which is normally open 24 hours — a sign announcing that it was closing for the day went up shortly after midday Saturday. Workers, mostly immigrants, huddled to discuss ways to get home. Others called family members on cell phones.

“It’s time for businesses to shut down and get their employees home right away,” de Blasio said at a press conference earlier.

In Times Square, a group of tourists from Nottingham, England, headed back to their hotel rooms after a late-morning breakfast. Their flight to the Cayman Islands had been canceled.

“We were hoping to be in Caribbean, relaxing with a nice drink on the beach but not,” one of them told CNN. “There could be worse places to be.”

“We’re going to play like children in the snow,” said another. “This is an opportunity to relive our childhood.”

For Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and his daughter Mia, out for a stroll near Central Park, the snow also brought back memories.

“We grew up playing in the snow and doing snow angels,” she told CNN’s Poppy Harlow. “He’s a big kid.”

Tyler’s advise to New Yorkers: “Stay home. Two words: hot chocolate.”

He had never experienced snow

On Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Luis Abraham Garcia pushed a tall, wheeled suitcase through the snow-covered sidewalks. The wind-driven flakes appeared to descend sideways, pelting his face and eyes.

A doctoral student visiting from Mexico City, Garcia, 29, was supposed to fly back home Friday from Washington, D.C., but that flight was canceled. With his New York flight also canceled, he was making a 22-hour train ride to Chicago, where he would try again to fly home.

“I planned to visit Chicago next year, but I’ll get there earlier,” he said.

This was Garcia’s first snowstorm.

“It’s irritating because of the delays but it’s also very exciting,” he said. “This is all new to me. I’ve never seen snow like this. I’ve been to New York during other seasons — in the cold and the heat — but never saw it under a blanket of snow.”

Juana Estevez, 64, trudged 14 blocks to her job as a home care attendant. There were no buses in sight.

“I’m running late,” Estevez said, the wind blowing her umbrella to the side.

“I enjoy the snow,” she said. “It’s beautiful. I love it. I’m doing good so far. I have good boots.”

Few cars traversed streets populated by fleets of plows and salt trucks.

“I’m happy,” Estevez said. “I’m relaxed. It’s the first snow we get this year. It’s about time. It cleans the air. It cleans up the ground. The city looks cleaner. It’s wonderful for now.”