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NY governor, mayor defend shutting down city for storm

January 28, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) — New York’s leaders were on the defensive after shutting down America’s biggest city for a snowstorm that failed to meet expectations here after forecasters warned of a storm of potentially historic proportions.

Before the heavy snows even reached New York City on Tuesday, officials closed schools, shut down bridges and tunnels, canceled commuter rail service and, for the first time ever in a snowstorm, closed the sprawling subway train system. A travel ban was put in place, and drivers were subject to arrest.

The meteorologists whose forecasts informed the region’s actions this week were wrong about the storm’s impact on New York City, and some even apologized. The storm was powerful on New York’s suburban Long Island and to the north in New England, where the Boston area was buried in more than 2 feet (half a meter) of snow and lashed with hurricane-force winds. But it ended up leaving far less than a foot (30 centimeters) of snow in New York City.

So the decision to lock down the city — particularly the closure of the subways — drew significant criticism from some business owners and transit advocacy groups. Such measures were unheard of until the past five years, when they were put in place for a pair of hurricanes.

That could be the new normal.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio staunchly defended their unprecedented, stringent restrictions, both saying they believed in landing on the side of caution and suggesting they would take such measures again.

“You can’t put a price on safety,” he said Wednesday on NBC’s “Today” show.

For both men, mistakes made during previous storms guided their decisions.

Cuomo acknowledged that his decision to act aggressively stems from the historic storm that blanketed the city of Buffalo with seven feet (over 2 meters) of snow late last year.

“We make big decisions based on these weather forecasts,” the governor said. “We decided not to close the roads in Buffalo ... and we had people stranded on the roads for 12, 15, 20 hours. You can have a significant loss of life in these situations.”

New York City lost about $200 million in economic activity because of the snow storm and decision to shut down the transit system, but it wasn’t a crippling loss, according to a preliminary estimate from Moody’s Analytics.

National Weather Service director Louis Uccellini said his agency should have done a better job of communicating the uncertainty in its forecast. But he also said the storm may in fact prove to be one of the biggest ever in some parts of Massachusetts.

Around New England, snowplows struggled to keep up, and Boston police drove several dozen doctors and nurses to work at hospitals. Snow blanketed Boston Common, where the British drilled during the American Revolution.

Boston’s public transit was running Wednesday morning and flights began arriving at Logan International Airport, among America’s busiest air hubs. But bitter cold threatened to complicate efforts to clear clogged streets and restore power to about 7,200 people remained without electricity, about half of them on hard-hit Nantucket Island.

Update hourly