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Suffolk Highway Official Resigns Over Botched Snow Removal; 5 Deaths Attributed To Storm

New Snow Storm Threatens Long Island
Crews work to remove snow in Smithtown, NY on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013. (credit: CBS 2)

Crews work to remove snow in Smithtown, NY on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013. (credit: CBS 2)

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SMITHTOWN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – Suffolk County continues to dig out from under more than 30 inches of snow as a new storm Wednesday evening threatens to bring more accumulation to Long Island.

As CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, the aftermath of the blizzard has wrought tragedy. Police have confirmed five deaths attributed to the weekend storm – all of them from shoveling or clearing heavy snow.

The men were between the ages of 51 and 81, from Selden, Southhold, and Northport.

Dorothy Shannon also suffered a heart attack, and said she might too have been a statistic due to unplowed roads slowing rescue response. She was evacuated on a sled.

“I just got out,” she said. “I had a heart attack”

Shannon spoke to CBS 2 exclusively after she was released from the hospital. Her harrowing evacuation took two hours, and involved a rescue stretcher, a sled and dozens of volunteer Stony Brook firefighters who worked to save her life.

Twenty-four hours after the blizzard hit, Shannon’s street remained totally impassable. Her husband, Michael, called the Town Hall beginning to have the street plowed.

“I was alone in hospital,” Michael Shannon said. “Nobody answered the phones.”

Brookhaven Town Councilman Steve Fiore said the problem was that officials were missing in action.

“I mean, our town supervisor was in the Caribbean, and our acting superintendent of highways was out with a toothache or something,” Fiore said. “I mean, how crazy is that?”

Coordination and communication broke down, said critics of the Brookhaven town leaders. Brookhaven alone is as geographically large as Nassau County, with 380 square miles of roads to plow and parts hit with 30-plus inches of snow.

The Brookhaven, mounting criticism has led to the resignation of highway department acting superintendent Michael Murphy.

Murphy’s resignation took effect at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Murphy declined to speak with CBS 2, and his highway staff said he was away tendering his resignation.

“He is going to resign, and on behalf of the town board, I will accept that resignation, as the most thing for this town to ensure that we properly, and professionally and expeditiously clean up the roadways for the residents of this town,” Brookhaven Deputy Town Supervisor Daniel Panico said.

Panico said Murphy missed four days of work because of his toothache.

“It’s 100 percent inexcusable to call in sick,” Panico said prior to Murphy’s announcement. “This is your only job as highway superintendent.”

Panico said some roads never got plowed because Murphy did not show up for work, WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reported.

Some people were stuck in their homes for days after the blizzard hit as a result.

“It’s the height of ridiculousness,” Panico added.

Frustrated residents took it upon themselves to plow out snow-covered streets themselves on Wednesday.

Panico said if Murphy had not stepped down, the town was contemplating bringing him up on charges.

Murphy is expected to remain on the town payroll, reclaiming his former maintenance job in Brookhaven, Hall reported.

Before stepping down, Murphy designated John Capella as First Deputy Superintendent of Highways.

Meanwhile, the town awaits Supervisor Edward Romaine, who was returning home Wednesday from a pre-scheduled Jamaican holiday. Romaine missed one storm, but has flown back into perhaps an even bigger storm of criticism.

Panico deflected criticism from Romaine, who has been away on vacation since before the storm hit.

On Tuesday, Commissioner of Waste Management Matt Miner told 1010 WINS that Romaine’s trip was pre-planned and that he has “been in constant contact with the town and our key management.”

But many residents were upset that Romaine was out of town when the storm hit.

“The fact that he went on vacation is not the right thing,” one resident said. “He should be here with the rest of us.”

Romaine is expected to return Wednesday and is set to hold a news conference on Thursday.

In Smithtown, 70 employees used two dozen vehicles to plow snow-covered streets overnight before loading the snow onto trucks and hauling it away. Crews started working at 9 p.m. Tuesday and didn’t finish until nearly Wednesday morning.

The cleanup was a welcome sight for residents who’ve been unable to move around since Friday.

“I’ve lived here for so long and that’s never happened before,” said resident Diane Miroddi.

Meanwhile, many Long Island residents said they’re concerned about a winter weather advisory that goes into effect Wednesday at 5 p.m. The National Weather Service said parts of eastern Long Island could see 2 to 5 inches of snow.

“I’m a little nervous, hopefully there will be some salt on the street or something to make it a little less treacherous,” said Chrisitine Miroddi.

Local highway officials are advising people to stay off the roads once the snow begins so they can start cleaning up as quickly as possible.

Forecasters said the worst conditions are expected after the evening rush and into the overnight. They said drivers should be prepared for slippery roads and limited visibility.

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