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Article and photo by Alice Gerard
The response to the blizzard that struck Grand Island around Christmas 2022 was discussed at a joint meeting of the Town Board and the Board of Education that was held on Jan. 29 at Grand Island High School.
Both the town and the school district needed to be prepared for unforeseen circumstances. One of those unforeseen circumstances occurred on Christmas Day at Sidway Elementary School.
According to Schools Superintendent Brian Graham, “Our principal at Sidway amazingly got out of his house on Christmas to get over to Sidway because the fire alarm was going off. A hot water pipe burst on the second floor, flooding two classrooms, and flooding classrooms on the first floor. Mr. Antonelli got out. He made his way over to Sidway and parked, of course, on the street. There was 4 feet of snow in the parking lots. He, as well as the fire company and our custodian and the head of buildings and grounds, was able to get into the building and start working on the problem. They wouldn’t have been able to have done that if the roads were in bad shape. It was incredible on Christmas that they were able to get over and help our school recover.”
The high wind speeds produced by the storm also created problems for parked school buses.
“Our bus doors are bungee closed,” Graham said. “The winds were so strong on Christmas that snow got inside all the buses. That was quite an astonishing sight. I want to credit Transportation Supervisor Theresa Alizadeh and our bus drivers and mechanics who worked diligently to get rid of that snow. As you can imagine, that could have had a significant impact on the electrical equipment inside of the buses.”
Graham added that he appreciated the work that the town did in response to the storm.
“We are very lucky to live on Grand Island and have the services that are provided to us,” he said. “The roads were opened quickly during the blizzard, just as the blizzard was subsiding. I can tell you that Christmas was pretty rough. The next morning, I was out. I saw Tops was open. The gas stations were open. It’s a real credit to the town council and to Highway Superintendent Dick Crawford and his team to get everything open. We were without power for about 24 hours. I went over to the Welcome Center. That was open. You were just beginning to plow out the high school at the time. So really, kudos to the town.”
The storm brought unexpected challenges to the town, said Supervisor John Whitney.
“We had a tremendous response and, as people mentioned, regarding fuel, we actually had to fuel some of the Erie County Sheriff's vehicles at our gas station because they couldn’t get off the Island to go to where they normally do their fueling,” he said. “It was a lot of shared cooperation and, again, credit to our Highway Department and our fire company and to Councilman Pete Marston and the snowmobile club for all the things they do.”
According to Marston, the town was well prepared for this storm, but there were issues that could be addressed for potential future storms.
“I really give a lot of credit to our town supervisor and our highway superintendent because, before the storm, we called a meeting amongst all the players in the town, if you will, all the department heads,” he said. “We have Greg Butcher, deputy director for preparedness and homeland security for Erie County. So, we had a plan before the storm. And we executed it. We are very thankful that we didn’t get the flooding that we were concerned about. That was the biggest question mark there.
“Every time there’s something like that, you learn. We learned that fuel can be an issue. We learned that emergency shelters can be an issue. We learned that all our emergency shelters are in the center of town, and they are not spread out. That may be something we want to work on in the future. I’ve had a couple discussions with Highway Superintendent Crawford and Supervisor Whitney about potentially starting some sort of disaster management plan, where we basically make an inventory of who’s got what, where it is, where our assets are, how we operate through a storm, going right down the phone tree. Who do we call for this? Who do we call for that?
“If we do something like this, I feel that the schools should have more than one seat at the table. We’re going to be using your facilities for emergency shelter areas. Huth Road is a good one. Kaegebein is another one because they’re spread out. Sidway is good, but it’s in the center of town. The remotes are where we really struggle. What kind of amenities are there? Are there cots? Hopefully, we won’t see another one of these storms for another 100 years. But, if we do, I think it’s important for us to work together and be ready for it.”
In addition, Graham also congratulated Grand Island High School graduates Brett Kern and Scott Kaniecki, who are headed to the Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles on Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona. Kern is the team’s punter. Kaniecki, who played football for the high school and for Brockport State College as a wide receiver, is administrative assistant to Head Coach Nick Sirianni.