Clearing the decks

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Marylanders began digging out Sunday from the great blizzard of February 2010, but they face the prospect of limited mobility for at least the next day or two - and more snow on the horizon.

With highways and most major thoroughfares cleared of snow, plows and salt trucks across the Baltimore area labored to open neighborhood streets, rural roads and cul-de-sacs. Local officials cautioned, though, that it might be late today or even Tuesday before they manage to reach those who are still snowbound. And travel remained treacherous at times even on the interstates, with cars and at least one snowplow skidding out on slick patches that still exist on plowed pavement.

Possibly easing a commuter's nightmare today, schools were canceled across the region, and state and local governments are either closed or have declared liberal leave for their employees. The federal government also was to be closed today, as was Maryland's General Assembly.

There were some signs of life returning to normal. For those who could get out, most major malls were open Sunday afternoon - sort of. Few customers were at the Mall in Columbia, where the big anchors were open but dozens of stores were closed. Of those customers who showed up, many had walked from nearby homes to break the boredom of being snowed in. One child and his mother rode the carousel.

Cars on normally busy city arteries, such as Reisterstown and York roads, shared the street with pedestrians who couldn't get to their cars but were too afflicted with cabin fever to stay home. Neighbors took walks, pulling babies along on sleds. Kids turned the snow into their own personal playgrounds, jumping from snow mounds several feet high, climbing into homemade igloos and throwing snowballs at unsuspecting friends.

"People are starting to get a little antsy; they're cooped up," acknowledged Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, whose road crews were struggling with the deepest snowfall in the state. "But they need to be patient - it's going to take a couple days to get to every street."

Transit service was gradually returning, with more expected today. Air travel remained iffy. Many Amtrak trains were canceled or sold out Sunday, and Greyhound buses remained idle.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. had restored power to most people by Sunday evening, with 9,491 still in the dark about 6 p.m. Power outages remained more widespread in the Washington suburbs, particularly Montgomery County.

Officials appealed to residents to exercise prudence, as authorities reported three deaths in Prince George's County over the weekend from suspected carbon monoxide poisoning. Maryland Shock Trauma Center treated and released eight patients Saturday for symptoms of poisoning by the odorless gas, which tends to collect in homes and vehicles when they are not adequately ventilated.

Baltimore County road chief Tim Burgess said smaller, less powerful plows were unable to budge the 28 inches of snow that have piled up in some neighborhoods. But officials are reluctant to send larger trucks down narrow residential streets for fear of pushing the snow up against parked cars and damaging them, he said.

In Baltimore, Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, said crews hope to plow and salt neighborhood streets through Sunday night. But O'Doherty urged city dwellers and downtown workers to use public transportation as much as possible today, and he said the mayor had called on neighborhood leaders to enlist residents in shoveling out bus stops.

Bus service, about 20 percent restored by Sunday, was expected to continue recovering, according to the Maryland Transit Administration. Light rail, which started up on Sunday, was expecting full service today. Metro, operating only underground over the weekend, was aiming to get to Owings Mills.

MARC commuter rail service will operate on a holiday schedule on the Penn Line today, but there will be no service on the Brunswick or Camden lines and no commuter bus service.

Amtrak trains were operating on a much-reduced schedule, with 13 northbound trains through Baltimore and 10 southbound trains canceled Sunday.

State government is operating today on a liberal-leave policy. The General Assembly cancellation was the first since the Presidents Day snowstorm in 2003.

Anne Arundel County government offices were to be closed, with only essential personnel expected to report to work, while other local governments opted for at least liberal leave. Baltimore City offices were to be open, though employees have the liberal-leave option.

As residents began to dig out from what the National Weather Service finally declared officially was a blizzard, according to Baltimore- Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport observations, it became clear that the storm carried more serious consequences than a temporary loss of mobility or power over the weekend.

According to Prince George's County fire spokesman Mark Brady, paramedics found a man in cardiac arrest in a car Saturday in Greenbelt. The man, Thomas Michael Jones, 55, was a cabdriver who had lost power in his home early Saturday, according to his sister, Karen Beuchel of Elkridge. She speculated that he might have attempted to keep warm in his car. The state medical examiner's office said it had yet to perform an autopsy. Two men in their 20s also were found dead in a car in Bladensburg early Sunday, according to Sgt. Tracy Stone, in what police said were "initial indications" of carbon monoxide poisoning. An investigation is continuing.

A spokeswoman for Union Memorial Hospital reported an "unusually high number of snowblower-related injuries" Sunday afternoon. Debra Schindler said the hospital's emergency department reported eight injuries in a three-hour period. She said many of the injuries involved hands.

For many residents, though, Sunday offered a chance for some healthy exercise in the sun and bonding with neighbors as they began to dig out.

Residents in the 1200 block of Walker Avenue in the Idlewylde neighborhood worked in teams shoveling each other's cars out. The narrow street took on the character of a summer block party.

Sheila Banister, wearing a royal-blue overcoat and Ravens hat, got help in digging out her white pickup truck from Wayne Corbin, 36, who lives across the street.

"I'm not a fan of snow," she said. "I don't like to walk in it, drive in it or be in it."

In Anneslie in Baltimore County, 9-year-old Madelyn Duncan and friend Kiely Woodward looked mischievously at each other before turning to throw a flurry of snowballs at Bruce Kane, the boyfriend of Madelyn's mom, as he was cleaning off a sport utility vehicle in the driveway. He responded by dumping a shovelful of snow on the girls, who erupted in giggles.

Anthony Van Lierop spent a couple of hours clearing his walkway on Overbrook Road, then used his engineering skills to build an igloo in the front yard for his kids, 4-year-old Hans and 3-year-old Cecilia. Cecilia climbed in and closed her eyes.

"No, you can't take a nap in there," her father said, laughing.

In Southwest Baltimore's Ten Hills neighborhood, Jesse Emminizer managed to clear a lane of Stamford Road to get to a plowed Edmondson Avenue - after his girlfriend and a neighbor resupplied him with gasoline for his snowblower. Emminizer, 24, who owns a landscaping business, was determined to get out so he could help others.

"I've got two homeowners associations and old ladies who need our help," he said.

In Locust Point, so many people flocked to Rafters on Fort Avenue that by noon Sunday, the tavern was running out of beer. The only beverages left on tap were Yuengling and Shock Top Belgian White, with the next delivery not scheduled until Tuesday, according to co-owner Paul Hartman - if the truck can get down the street.

In Northwest Baltimore, a high school basketball tournament that had played on through the blizzard wrapped up - though at least one of the out-of-town teams remained stranded Sunday night until it could catch a flight home.

Teams from Dallas, New York and Philadelphia had journeyed to Baltimore on Thursday to play in the round-robin contest hosted by Baltimore's Yeshivat Rambam high school, said Ari Braun, coach of the local team.

Plans to put the out-of-town teams up in local homes were scrapped as the blizzard began, and everyone camped out in the Jewish Community Center on Park Heights Avenue, with donations of air mattresses and sleeping bags from the community. The teams took time out from games to participate in prayers and a meal Friday night, then played on Saturday and Sunday morning. Teams from New York and Philadelphia headed back up the interstate, while the Dallas team holed up in a local hotel; members are scheduled to fly home Tuesday.

"I think it was total luck," said Braun. "By the grace of God, it came together and worked out."

Baltimore Sun reporters Andrea Walker, Liz Bowie, Larry Carson, Mike Dresser, Jacques Kelly, Andrea Siegel, Laura Vozzella and Peter Hermann contributed to this article.

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