By GARY McLENDON
Queens residents are notoriously tough, but when a snow-storm dumped 15
inches of snow on the borough on February 9, 1969, they were knocked for a loop. The
unexpected snow-storm set off a series of events that rankled residents, pushing them to
The snow closed schools, railroads, highways, and retail stores. The snow
emergency stranded 6,000 passengers at Kennedy Airport for two days. Thousands of New
Yorkers were unable to get to their jobs. The stock and commodity exchanges were
closed. Hundreds of car accidents occurred on the snow-packed area highways, and police
rescued stranded motorists on the New Jersey Turnpike, the Tappan Zee Bridge, and all
major New York roadways. Police initially reported 14 dead and 68 injured as a result of
the storm. Three people were found dead in a Kennedy Airport parking lot.
Queens residents were
furious with Mayor Lindsay (right, pictured with Donald Manes) in 1969, when the city
neglected to plow much of the boroughs streets after a terrible snowstorm.
Part of the problem was that the storm occurred on a
Sunday, which caught the city napping, because meteorologists inaccurately predicted the
depth of the snow. But the bulk of the problem surrounded the lack of snow removal.
Mayor John Lindsay drew extreme criticism from Queens residents for
failing to clear the streets. The NYC Sanitation Dept. cleared main thoroughfares with the
aid of 1,000 citizen volunteers, but Queens residents on smaller streets waited weeks to
get their streets plowed. The snow-storm was the worst the city had seen since 17.5 inches
of snow fell on the city in 1961.
Two days after the storm, Mayor Lindsay, in response to complaints from
Queens representatives, toured city neighborhoods. Starting out by limousine, he shifted
to four-wheel drive vehicles before traveling Queens by foot to survey the snow piles. He
was booed by Queens homeowners.
The New York Times reported that at 69th Road, near the Grand
Central Parkway, the Mayors path was blocked by three Sanitation Department plows,
stuck in snow drifts. Ordinary plows were inadequate to remove the snow.
"This part of Queens is the worst as far as snow cleaning is
concerned," said Lindsay. "Were commandeering bulldozers all over the
place wherever we can find them."
But while snow sat on the ground, the political climate rose. "Just
you try to get elected again," said one Queens resident to the mayor.
City Councilman Matthew Troy Jr. called for a grand jury probe into
alleged "wanton disregard bordering on criminal neglect" concerning Queens
conditions. Death tolls rose to 25 with 116 injured, and the Sanitation Dept. placed 7,500
people on the snow removal detail.
Unsatisfied, Troy demanded that Governor Rockefeller declare all areas
outside of Manhattan disaster areas, and have the National Guard assist with
snow removal. In response Lindsay increased the snow removal force to 10,000. The death
toll rose again to 42 dead and 288 injured; more than half of which took place in Queens.
The snow storm closed businesses for days and while garbage piled up among
the snow-drifts, delayed food deliveries caused panic in city supermarkets, and
shop-owners were accused of price-gouging. Two NYC Sanitation workers were suspended for
collecting $100 from Queens residents for removing snow from their streets.
Lindsay defended his administration, citing obsolete snow-removal
equipment that he inhered from prior administrations. He added that there were additional
difficulties in obtaining private snow-removal equipment in the Bronx and Queens, and that
the administration would re-examine all major snow removal procedures and probe
misconduct linked with snow removal in Eastern Queens.
The city spent nearly $6 million on snow removal for the February 9 storm.
New York City ended the snow emergency on February 18. But in Queens, snow removal
complaints continued into March.