Washington snowed in: Storm empties streets, drives homeless inside

It snowed and snowed, and seemed as if it would never end.

Washington awoke Saturday to a thick blanket of snow and flakes continued to fall at a quick pace for the rest of the day, bringing an unusual stillness to the city.

Street lights switched from red to green and back again with not a car in sight.

Officials had called for residents to remain indoors, even as a few brave souls ventured outside and children played in the snow.

As of late Saturday, some 50 centimetres lay across central Washington as snow continued to fall.

City worker Andrew Thomas spent Saturday morning shoveling a sidewalk along Georgia Avenue and had been at it since midnight.

“You have to just constantly keep going," he said, noting the fast pace of the snow made his job difficult. “As fast as we’ve cleared it, it’s coming back.”

A few metres away, homeless residents stood outside Catholic Charities, where they could warm themselves, sleep and get something to eat.

Volunteer William Howard was distributing water and sandwiches outside the shelter.

"Some people refuse to come in," he said. "Even when we don’t have beds, we encourage them to stay in."

Some 7,000 homeless people live in Washington, with around 500 on the streets. The city has come under criticism in recent years for the state of its shelters, and Howard echoed those concerns: “They spent money on everything else, but not on the homeless.”

Still, authorities made efforts to bring the homeless off the streets ahead of the storm and provided numbers for residents to call if they saw someone in need of shelter.

The 50 beds in the Catholic Charities centre were all filled and others side in an adjoining room. The shelter normally closes at 7 am, but was to remain open throughout the weekend due to the weather.

Lester, who has lived on the streets for two years, said he spent the night in the shelter because conditions were simply too bad outside.

Further down the avenue, lies Howard University and a bustling neighbourhood where coffee shops are normally filled with patrons. On Saturday, most remained closed, only one sandwich shop was open for business. "Open 24 hours" blinked the sign on the door, two employees stared bored at the door, the tables remained empty.

In the days before the storm, many residents had stocked up on essentials and other goods. As the first flakes fell Friday, wine shops were doing a bustling business and super market shelves in neighbouring Virgina had been cleared of chicken and hot chocolate.

Public life had come to a halt even before the storm, with classes cancelled at area schools and the federal government closing early. Public transportation was shut down through at least Sunday.

The few taxi drivers who were operating were charging premium prices. One driver on Friday afternoon was already adding a 15-dollar surcharge as it just began to snow.

Last update: Tue, 28/06/2016 - 17:25
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