Snow-buried communities seek help from residents

Associated Press
Vehicles try to maneuver across snow and ice-covered state Route 112 in Medford, N.Y., Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. While major highways on eastern Long Island were beginning to recover from a weekend blizzard, many local roads remained covered in snow and ice two days after the storm. (AP Photo/Frank Eltman)
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BOSTON (AP) — With schools still closed, cars still buried and streets still blocked by the widespread weekend snowstorm, officials around southern New England are asking people to pick up a shovel and help out.

In Boston, a "snow angel" campaign is using social media to encourage neighbors and friends to be an angel and help dig out the stranded.

Hundreds of volunteers carried shovels to downtown Waterbury, Conn., after the mayor promised to pay minimum wage to anyone who helped clear the City Hall area and the schools Tuesday.

In Rhode Island, dozens of volunteers responded to a call by the volunteer advocacy group Serve Rhode Island to help clear snow.

Pedro Gonzalez of Cranston, R.I., had done three shoveling jobs for elderly residents by mid-afternoon Tuesday, fueled only by a few sports drinks and the satisfaction he said the work gives him.

"You feel full, you know?" he said, speaking after his most recent job in Providence. "You feel real good and you sleep better."

The snowfall Friday and Saturday buried the region in 1 to 3 feet of snow, and communities still are struggling to get back to normal.

The storm, blamed for at least 18 deaths across the U.S. and Canada, caused flooding that forced coastal evacuations in Massachusetts and carried high winds that downed trees and power lines.

By early Wednesday, more than 6,800 utility customers still were without power, including 5,539 in Massachusetts, which was hardest hit with outages. More than 650,000 homes and businesses in eight states were without electricity at one point.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino's office has encouraged neighbors to help out neighbors after other storms, but this time it's using social media to create a "buzz" and spread the word more broadly, said Emily Shea, the city's Elderly Affairs commissioner.

Shea said most people who call the mayor's hotline for help clearing snow end up figuring things out themselves. But others don't, and the snow angel campaign aims to make sure they aren't forgotten.

"We're still just a couple days after the storm, and we still want to make sure folks are looking out for each other," she said.

The new workforce in Waterbury was formed after Mayor Neil O'Leary took a friend's suggestion to hire kids who are off from school — and possibly getting bored — to clear out City Hall and the schools, which are closed at least until Wednesday.

O'Leary put the word out, offering Connecticut's $8.25 hourly minimum wage. He said about 500 people, most between ages 14 and 18 with some adults mixed in, showed up at City Hall at noon Tuesday.

The offer is good again Wednesday, and O'Leary figures the workers will cost the city about $50,000. But he hopes the teens will get more than money in return, he said.

"We're giving them a little sense of community, a sense of pride," O'Leary said.

The Providence volunteers were rounded up by Serve Rhode Island in partnership with the United Way. The group recently deployed hundreds of people to help with Rhode Island's Superstorm Sandy cleanup, so it had a list of possible volunteers to alert. It also requested snow-clearing volunteers on its website.

Share Rhode Island Executive Director Bernie Beaudreau said the group has had some worries over whether people would pose as volunteers and victimize those they were supposed to help. But he said the much larger Sandy operation went well and he expected no problems this time.

"We're banking on the good will of others," he said,

Gonzalez, 40, said he's anticipating some aches for his efforts, but added he's glad to offer his time.

"Personally, I really love it," said Gonzalez, who helps manage his family's convenience store. "I believe that a blessing is useless if you don't share it."

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