Indo-Caribbeans and others in New York City and surrounding areas were grounded to a halt as the area was a ‘white out’ over the weekend. A major storm, described as a nor’easter, delivering a massive punch of heavy snow and fierce knife cutting winds, brought the Indo-Caribbean diaspora and the rest of the city to a grinding halt. The storm pummeled New York and neighboring states on the northeast coast, closing businesses and keeping people indoors. It was dangerous and the Governors of surrounding states declared a state of emergency, meaning people should not be outside unless they are first responders or in a critical job going to and from work.
Everyone was affected in the snow’s path. Guyanese, Trinis, and others grabbed shovels and hand operated mobile plow units a few youngsters were seen frolicking in the snow that is an American pastime when there is a lot of snow.
There were power outages in several parts of the city though not in greater Richmond Hill or areas where the large Guyanese and Trini population of over half a million dwell.
Shops were shuttered virtually everywhere, affecting businesses especially fast food restaurants that earn the bulk of their weekly income from Friday afternoon thru Sunday evening. Even public transport was affected moving slowly with few overhead trains and buses running normally. Traveling was very dangerous and people were known to lose their lives from accidents as well as medical conditions that were worsened by the low temperature. Some 3500 flights were cancelled on Saturday as a result of the storm. The same was expected on Sunday as crews tried to clean airport runways. And the streets were virtually empty. As opposed to earlier storms, when kids liked to play in the snow and make snow man, few kids were outside. It was bitterly cold with sub-zero temperatures and harsh winds. Howling wind whipping snow from one spot to another. And one could barely see anything beyond 100 yards or less. The wind drift piled the snow onto heaps making cleaning difficult.
Warning about the dangerous conditions outside, the mayor appealed to residents to stay indoors. The only people out were those cleaning snow around mid-day on Saturday as the storm eased its powerful punch. TV stations carried live broadcasts of the snow and transportation difficulties and of snow plows grading the snow to the sides to make it possible for emergency vehicles to get to the sick and disabled.
It was blizzard like conditions in parts of the city – visibility very low and winds exceeding 35mph. The city sanitation department worked through the day and all through the night to make streets passable. Normalcy in the city is not expected till Monday. The good news for the city is the snow came on the weekend. And Monday is a holiday for students as the city celebrates the Chinese New Year (Lunar). Tuesday is also a holiday for Secondary school students – the end of the first term of the school year that is used as a staff development day for teachers to reflect on the past half year and plan for the next half.
Speaking with Guyanese about the storm, one said, “This was a big snow storm and till Friday afternoon was unexpected. The European forecasters were saying it would hit the city hard and the American weather forecasters were saying it won’t be that bad and then it came massive”.
The snow storm brought back memories of drying and milling paddy using ‘wooden gangaram’ and ‘scrapers’ in Guyana to spread out and heap the paddy. Speaking with Guyanese home owners who came out to clean snow, they said in this storm shoveling the snow was somewhat easy. It was not wet and heavy but soft and fluffy to move. “It is the law. I have to clean the snow to create a passageway for people to walk”, one said. Another responded: “I do what I have to do as it is God’s work”. Another said: “We got clobbered”. And yet another stated: “It will take sometime for me to dug out. I don’t like the snow. I don’t like the cold winter. I prefer to be in Guyana but I don’t have a choice”.
Their major problem was shoveling multiple times because the wind blew the snow right back after they clean the sidewalks and driveways. Also, the snow plows pushed snow on the right side of the streets in front of driveways forcing home attendant cleaners to shovel snow again and again. New York City law mandates that homeowners are responsible for cleaning sidewalks of snow and garbage. Homeowners are known to be fined for failure to main a safe passage of passersby. Thus, almost every Guyanese and Trini and Panjabi owner in the Greater Richmond Hill area was observed shoveling snow. Some were seen with hard coconut brank brooms sweeping the snow clean from the pavement and their front porches. Some seventy percent of Indian Guyanese and Trini households in Queens own their own private houses with a majority owning multiple unit dwellings and some owners of several buildings that are rented. They are responsible for cleaning the snow on the pavement around their buildings. As the temperature drops, the snow compacts and hardens into thick layer of ice. It is very difficult to clean. Temperature is expected to remain below freezing till Tuesday.
The city has been in a deep freeze since Friday evening. Freezing temperatures and blowing snowfall complicated efforts to clear the roads into Sunday. Guyanese and Trini home owners were seen shoveling snow in front of their homes early Sunday morning as the sun pierces out. Guyanese and Trini shopkeepers were also about cleaning in front of their stores and sprinkling calcite salt to melt the snow as they prepare to welcome shoppers after a dull Saturday. Everyone was seen bundled up in heavy multiple layered clothing with head gear and gloves to stay warm.
The snowstorm was expected to blow into the Greater Toronto area Sunday morning to give the Indo-Caribbean diaspora there a nice treat.