BOSTON (Reuters) - A record-setting run of snowstorms that has pounded the U.S. Northeast over the past two weeks has taken a heavy toll on Massachusetts, prompting officials to shut Boston’s mass-transit service through Tuesday to allow time to clear the rails.
Following a day that saw 48 commuters stuck on a snowbound train during the morning rush hour, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said all train service would shut down at 7 p.m. EST (2400 GMT) on Monday due to the snow and remain shut on Tuesday.
The closure of Boston’s transit system, as well as its schools, came after officials said 73.9 inches (1.9 meters) of snow had fallen on the city so far this season, making it the 10th snowiest winter on record.
At least four buildings collapsed around Boston under the snow’s weight, the National Weather Service said, though no injuries had been reported as a result of those incidents.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, who has expressed frustration through the day at the woes of the independent transportation agency, said it was critical to keep the trains running.
“The most important thing people are looking for today, and I don’t blame them, is a little predictability and dependability,” Baker told reporters. But given the magnitude of the snowfall, he added, “if they don’t think they can run the service tomorrow, I‘m glad they said so today.”
The repeated disruption to the city’s transit system, which has included aging trains freezing up during extreme cold, has also exasperated commuters.
“I‘m kind of surprised that we aren’t all better prepared for this since we live in the north,” said Nzuekoh Nchinda, 22, as she struggled to find a bus for her commute home from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “We’re frustrated at Mother Nature but we can’t shake our fists at Mother Nature so we shake our fists at the MBTA.”
Others were angry that the transit agency gave only three hours’ notice of its planned shutdown.
“It is absolutely not OK. Three hours, for a major metropolitan cosmopolitan city, is not enough. Especially not for non-blizzard conditions that were preexisting,” said Evan Gutride, 36, who works in technology. “They should have had a plan.”
MBTA officials said “extremely limited” bus service would run on Tuesday.
Schools in Boston will be closed again on Tuesday, Mayor Marty Walsh told reporters. That would mark the eighth snow day this year, and officials are contemplating cancelling some school vacation days later in the year to ensure students receive the 180 days of schooling required by state law, he said.
Boston officials were hauling the snow to “snow farms” where specialized equipment melts 400 tons of snow per hour. Walsh noted that by the week’s end the city will have spend double the $18 million it had budgeted for snow removal this winter.
The temperature is forecast to remain below freezing for the next week, leaving little hope of the snow melting on its own.
The repeated storms are starting to take a toll on supplies of road salt in the Northeast, with Morton Salt, one of the largest U.S. salt suppliers, running behind on some customer orders, said spokeswoman Denise Lauer.
“Supplies have been challenged,” Lauer said, adding that a complicating factor has been that many of the trucks the Chicago-based company would contract to deliver salt have been pressed into service for snow removal.
Some 19.7 inches (50 cm) of snow had fallen on Boston since the storm began early Sunday, according to the National Weather Service, which warned that the snow would likely continue into Tuesday morning.
Some communities south of Boston had received more than two feet (60 cm) of snow by Monday afternoon.
As cities and towns struggled to find places to pile snow, Massachusetts officials said they had begun granting some exceptions to environmental laws that prohibit dumping snow into waterways due to the salt and road contaminants it can carry.
“At a time like this, there is literally nowhere else,” Matthew Beaton, the state’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, told reporters. “Our snowfields are filling up. There is literally nowhere else to put the snow.”
Snowy conditions contributed to more than 2,000 flight cancellations around the United States on Monday, with the largest number reported in Boston and at New York’s LaGuardia Airport.
Jury selection for the upcoming trial of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be suspended on Tuesday due to the weather, court officials said.
Reporting by Scott Malone and Elizabeth Barber; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Kevin Murphy in Kansas City; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Mohammad Zargham and Eric Beech