Blizzard Deals Blow To Chicago's Can-Do Reputation

After boasting for years that it can cope with any weather contingency, Chicago — much to the delight of the cities that panic when there's a chance of a dusting — had some problems this week. But residents there say: Hey — it was the 3rd worst in history; give us a break!

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And Im Robert Siegel.

The massive blizzard that swept the nation earlier this week has tested the resources and resolve of countless towns and cities. And as NPR's Cheryl Corley reports, it dealt a blow to Chicago's can-do reputation.

CHERYL CORLEY: It's bright and sunny in Chicago today, safe enough for Loyola student Lauren Smith to venture out.

Ms. LAUREN SMITH (Student, Loyola University): Wow, it's crazy. I actually haven't been outside since Tuesday.

CORLEY: Dont blame her. The blizzard that hit here was the third worst in the city's history, dumping 20-plus inches of snow. But Chicago has a nickname: the city that works. And in an effort to live up to that model, city crews have been at it, nonstop.

Attorney Diane Elman(ph), walking to catch a train, says she's noticed.

Ms DIANE ELMAN (attorney): I think it's pretty amazing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ELMAN: It's impossible.

CORLEY: And a bicyclist rides by on a plowed and salted roadway, as if to emphasize the point.

Now, dont get me wrong. There's still lots of snow here, especially on side streets - huge mounds of it. But here's whats different...

(Soundbite of conversations)

CORLEY: Chicago public schools are back in session today, after closing for snow for the first time in 12 years. Also up and running, O'Hare and Midway Airports.

And Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis says the city went 48 hours without any gunfire during this week's blizzard, until someone tried to steal - well, what else - a snow blower.

But for many, the image that will define this storm is a clogged Lakeshore Drive, where hundreds of motorists were stranded for hours after accidents, fierce winds and white-out conditions paralyzed the area. Now, the road is back open, and people are hunting for their cars.

Ms. ROBIN FINE: I was one of the lucky ones.

CORLEY: Robin Fine(ph) got a ride from a friend to pick up her car from one of the lots where the city towed the snowbound cars.

Ms. FINE: I was unlucky that I was towed first...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FINE: ...because Im buried, and because I ran out of gas.

(Soundbite of shoveling snow)

CORLEY: Now, snowstorms and Chicago politics often go hand-in-hand. Miguel Palozzio, working to make a path for his car, says just about every Chicagoan knows that.

Mr. MIGUEL PALOZZIO: It's clear in this city, for any mayor, that if you dont handle a snowstorm well, thats the end of your tenure.

CORLEY: Of course, Richard Daley is a lame-duck. But there's a mayoral campaign under way, and city officials apologized for the Lakeshore Drive mess.

But Sandra Small says Chicago's legitimate snow-clearing bragging rights may be tarnished, but not by much.

Ms. SANDRA SMALL: Well, you know, I've lived in some other places, like D.C. And they - you know, two inches of snow, they shut everything down. Here in Chicago - what, two days? Two days later, we're up and running again. Where else are they doing that?

CORLEY: Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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