DULUTH – As two elementary schools remained closed and the poorest neighborhood in the city remained drifted over from this weekend's storm, Mayor Emily Larson said she has taken responsibility for letting residents down.
"That did not meet the expectations I have in place for us as a city," she said at a news conference to apologize to residents and detail free child-care programs for affected families. "This last day has proven to be too long for everybody."
The snow from the weekend blizzard stopped falling by noon Sunday, and plows have progressed through residential streets in the days since, working from 2 a.m. to 6 p.m. with up to 40 on the road at a time. Both mechanical failures and broken internal structures led to missed streets and delays getting roads and alleys cleared, Larson said.
Many residents have run out of patience, and some e-mailed the City Council with their concerns: "Each year the plowing of this particular area gets later and later in the cycle, yet the vulnerable adults are getting older and older. This is truly a concerning issue," wrote Garry Krause in Duluth Heights.
"How many days of work and school will my family be forced to miss?" asked Roxanne DeLille, who lives on Mesaba Place.
The blizzard dropped nearly 22 inches on Duluth, the ninth-highest two-day total on record.
Larson said the city's snow-removal fleet is the largest in the state, but the equipment was in some places not able to handle the depth and density of the snow, causing breakdowns. Some streets required two plows — one to loosen the snow, the other to move it, Larson said. In some cases, poor management meant streets were simply missed.
Because other cities, counties and the state were busy with their own plowing, Larson said the city could not call in help from other agencies, and snow totals did not rise to the level of calling in the National Guard.
"I really truly understand how isolating and scary that feels, so I don't want to dismiss the personal emergencies. … It does not qualify, however, on the same scale of activation for the National Guard," she said.
The city is looking at revamping how it manages plowing resources, adding technology that would help residents know when to expect their streets to be cleared and potentially adding more equipment and staff.
"We will strive to do much better," the mayor said.
Students at Myers-Wilkins and Lowell elementary schools have not been in class since Tuesday before Thanksgiving. About 80% of the students who attend Myers-Wilkins are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, while 35% of Lowell students are, according to state figures.
Central Hillside, the neighborhood that remained trapped Wednesday morning, has the lowest household income in the city, with 43% of residents living below poverty level, according to census data.
"How many people in the Hillside can't afford to take another day off to take care of kids while the rest of the city goes back to work/life?" said Duluth activist Ashley Northey.
There will be free youth programs and free lunch and dinner at the neighborhood's Washington Community Center at 310 N. First Av. W.
Duluth Public Schools Superintendent Bill Gronseth said he expects all schools to be open Thursday.
The Duluth City Council passed new snow-emergency rules this year that designated 120 miles of emergency routes where cars would be required to move after a heavy snowfall. The rules go into effect starting next winter.