Gov. Markell urges residents to be patient, stay indoors

SMYRNA — With heavy snow and strong winds continuing today, Gov. Jack Markell urged Delawareans to stay indoors and be patient.

That patience will be needed even after the Blizzard of 2016 leaves Delaware Sunday, he said, since it might take days to clear all roads.

Gov. Jack Markell

Gov. Jack Markell

The governor, along with Department of Transportation Secretary Jennifer Cohan, held a briefing this morning at the Delaware Emergency Management Agency in Smyrna to report on the state’s status since the storm arrived Friday afternoon.

“More than 500 DelDOT employees and 246 members of the National Guard have been working nonstop since Friday afternoon to respond to these weather events,” Gov. Markell said.

The workers have 300 plows on the road and began clearing the early snow accumulation, but hours, if not days, remain until all primary and secondary roads will be safe for driving, the two warned.

Snow and ice are not the only problems on major roadways — portions of Del. 1 in Sussex County are flooded and impassible.

In anticipation of expected additional accumulation and increasingly treacherous conditions, Gov. Markell elevated the Level 1 driving restriction in Kent and Sussex counties to Level 2 this morning. A Level 2 restriction means roads should be clear of all drivers except essential personnel. Essential personnel are considered to be those operating snow-clearing equipment, emergency responders, health care professionals and those with pre-approved driving waiver).

As of 2 p.m. today, a reported 205 vehicles were disabled on Delaware roads. Those disabled vehicles not only cause drivers and passengers to be potentially stranded in the snow, but make it more difficult for roads to be cleared by DelDOT plows.

The Delaware State Police also reported 135 collisions resulting in property damage and another 14 resulting in personal injuries.

DelDOT’s main focus is primary roads including Del. 1, U.S. 13 and U.S. 113 in Kent and Sussex. Secondary and tertiary roads may not be cleared before Sunday, according to DelDOT.

The National Weather Service’s Blizzard Warning remains in effect for New Castle and Kent counties until 6 a.m. Sunday. Meanwhile, Sussex County is under a Winter Weather Warning.

Once the skies clear Sunday morning, total snow accumulations are expected to be between 18 and 24 inches in Kent and New Castle counties while downstate coastal areas are expected to have 12 to 18 inches.

The National Weather Service reports heavy snow will continue through today, but at times will be a mix of snow and rain.

“Even as the storm subsides, please remain patient as DelDOT continues to clear the roads,” Gov. Markell said.

He also said the department had prepared all week for the predicted storm by fueling the plows, replacing windshield wipers and laying brine and salt on the roads.

Still, clearing all roads will take time, he said.

“Over night we saw road conditions deteriorate significantly and even as we clear the roads, we expect continuing snow and ice,” Gov. Markell said.

High wind speeds are expected to blow snow back on primary roads even after precipitation subsides, making it difficult for essential personnel to reach their destinations.

“We’ve been able to use our vehicles to help those who are stranded at their homes like nurses or doctors who can’t navigate the roads right now and to reach those who are in need of help,” said Lt. Col. Len Gratteri of the Delaware National Guard.

“Right now we have 270 soldiers activated who came on duty yesterday afternoon, so they’ve been working for about 24 hours now. We had them prepositioned in each county to support local fire departments as well as the Delaware State Police,” he added.

The National Guard has made all its resources available to first responders including their off-road vehicles, some of which can drive through three to four feet of snow or water – a useful tool to reach those who may be stranded by down state coastal flooding.

People are encouraged to staff off roads. Public transit has been suspended as well with DART buses not running today. Amtrak will follow an abbreviated schedule as weather permits.

The governor urged people to use the DelDOT mobile app or visit deldot.gov to stay informed of road conditions throughout the state.

To keep emergency response lines open, Gov. Markell reminded the public not to call 911 if power goes out but to instead call the power company directly.

He also encouraged people to check on elderly or disabled neighbors, but there will be no need to check your mailbox.

The U.S. Postal Service announced shortly after 9:30 a.m. that postal operations in Philadelphia, southern/central New Jersey and Delaware have been suspended today

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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