Columbia digging out, recovering slowly after blizzard

Wednesday, February 2, 2011 | 4:28 p.m. CST; updated 5:35 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 2, 2011

COLUMBIA — Columbia is trying to move forward and resume business as usual.

But not much is normal in the wake of Tuesday's historic blizzard.

Much of The District was closed Wednesday. Businesses that weren't closed likely had shortened hours.

Kaldi's barista Tom Carrillo said the restaurant opened at the regular 6:30 a.m., but it just wasn't worth staying open until 11 p.m. He said he thought they shouldn't encourage people to come out in bad weather. The coffee shop closed at 3 p.m.

Starbucks barista Meredith Clark said business has been surprisingly "not too bad."

"Our company works under the assumption that we work normal hours all the time," Clark said. Starbucks closed at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday but opened by 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Booche's was one of the few businesses thriving Wednesday.

The restaurant was bustling around 1 p.m. while owner Rick Robertson sat at the bar. He said the restaurant closed at 5 p.m. Tuesday because very few customers were coming in. Booche's had normal hours Wednesday, mostly out of necessity.

"As a business, we have to stay open as long as we can," Robertson said. "We have to pay the bills."

Many "closed due to cold weather" signs hung in the doors and windows of local businesses. Residents who braved the cold weather downtown had to deal with sparsely shoveled sidewalks and 2- to 3-foot tall snow piles that ran down the middle of the street. With sidewalks almost impassable, residents took to walking in the streets.

Todd Berchek, a paid volunteer of the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts, spent hours Wednesday morning shoveling the sidewalk in front of the theater to make sure the surrounding businesses could open Thursday.

"More people have started coming out, but it's been pretty quiet this morning," Berchek said.

City Manager Bill Watkins anticipates most, if not all, city offices will reopen Thursday. Columbia Transit and Para-Transit will operate on the emergency weather schedule starting Thursday morning.

Businesses outside downtown resumed normal operations Wednesday. Grocery stores such as Schnucks, Hy-Vee and Patricia's Foods were open, but no one was available for comment because they were so short-staffed. The Columbia Mall also re-opened after being closed on Tuesday, holding its regular hours of 10 a.m. to 9 p.m, according to its website.

MU and Columbia Public Schools will be closed for the third consecutive day Thursday, according to a release from the MU News Bureau and an alert from the school district.

The closures are a result of a 17.7 inch snowfall in Tuesday's blizzard. Columbia saw snow accumulation only 2 inches shy of the 19.7 inch record for a 24-hour snowfall set Jan. 18 to 19, 1995, according to the National Weather Service.

Chancellor Brady Deaton cites the "unprecedented nature of the current weather emergency" as the reason behind the extended school closure. 

Facilities that will be open today at MU:

  • Health Care hospitals
  • MU Student Center
  • Student Recreation Complex (Hitt Street entrance only)
  • Select dining halls (can be found on the CDS website)

The release urges faculty not to make any decisions regarding makeup classes or final exam schedules until "discussions and final decisions occur later this week or next." The release said MU will resume classes in full on Friday.

The city of Columbia and Missouri Department of Transportation are working around the clock to clear snow on major roads and residential streets so residents can get around the city safely.

Eighteen snow plows and additional trucks with plows are working to clear Columbia's six wards. Jill Stedem, Public Works spokeswoman, said the goal is to get one lane in and one lane out on residential streets.

Crews are working 12-hours shifts with changes at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., Stedem said.

Right now, she said, the focus is on snow removal. With the last big snow, it took from Wednesday to about Sunday to clear the roads of snow.

MoDOT assistant engineer Eric Schroeder said plowing on the main state roads is going better than expected. The Transportation Department's goal for Wednesday was to completely clear major roads, including Interstate 70, Providence Road and Stadium Boulevard. Minor roads, such as lettered routes B, K and W should at least be passable one way in each direction.

"Given the magnitude of the storm, our folks are doing a great job considering the blizzard just ended 12 hours ago," Schroeder said. "(We are) getting heavy routes cleared and moving on to smaller routes."

Schroeder said the plowing crews will continue until the roads are cleared of snow, which is their main priority. Ice is not really an issue at this point because salt is not as effective in sub-zero temperatures.

Although wind and extreme cold could delay snow removal progress, Schroeder said everyone is "staying at it."

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