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City prepared but incidents few

Despite a 16-inch snowfall and the onset of frigid temperatures Sunday, it was a fairly event-free Saturday in Rochester, from a public safety perspective.

"It worked out pretty well," said Ken Jones, the city's deputy emergency management director. "We're pretty pleased."

Police, fire, public works and other departments were on high alert for what turned out to be one of the biggest blizzards in years.

After a 6 p.m. conference of city departments to plan their response, the fire department called in two extra crews, and public works placed two drivers on emergency standby. Like several cities in the region, Rochester ceased snow-plowing after 7 p.m. Saturday and resumed at 2 a.m. Sunday.

Firefighters responded to a handful of carbon-monoxide-related calls and an "unusual number" of reports of residents smelling natural gas in their homes, said Deputy Fire Chief Steve Belau.The natural-gas complaints came where high winds forced downdrafts in home exhausts, Belau said.


There were no fires and no accidents with significant injuries, Belau said. "We were very lucky both ways," he said.

Lt. Eric Roeske with the Minnesota State Patrol reported 201 crashes statewide during the storm — 150 of them in the Twin Cities metro area — with the remaining ones evenly distributed across the state's three southern regions centered around Rochester, Mankato and Worthington. There were no serious-injury or fatal accidents in the Rochester region, Roeske said.

Other notes from the storm:

• Rochester police officers switched from their normal squad cars to department SUVs for better traction in the snow, Jones said.

• Rochester operates 44 snowplows. Those ran from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, and from 2 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. They were set to resume at 2 a.m. today, with an emphasis on removing snow by truck from the downtown area, said Joe Fitzpatrick, the city's streets superintendent. It might take three nights for crews to fully remove snow where it's been piled, Fitzpatrick said.

• City streets remain snow-packed and icy. They'll stay that way, as long as temperatures hover near zero, Fitzpatrick said. "The chemical won't work to melt them (the streets) off," he said. "The intersections are all going to be slipperier than heck."

• An estimated two dozen cars, stuck and abandoned in the middle of streets, hampered snow-plowing work Saturday.

• Snow-plowers kept busy overnight Saturday to Sunday, on two occasions helping free ambulances that had gotten stuck, Jones said. One plow and driver each were lodged overnight at fire stations 1 and 4.


• Police received a lower number of calls than normal for a Saturday night. "Most people seemed to be staying home," Jones said.

• Rochester firefighters responded to a sprinkler-system leak at the University Center-Rochester Sports Center fieldhouse on Sunday. The leak, reported around 1 p.m., was contained to a small area with tile floors and a floor drain and did not disrupt any events, said Battalion Chief Tim Bangert.

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