Image: Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker gets a hug from Lakeesha Paylor
Julio Cortez  /  AP
Lakeesha Paylor, left, who worked with Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker to dig cars out from under the snow, gives him a thank you after he helped her dig her vehicle out.
updated 1/28/2011 6:34:40 PM ET 2011-01-28T23:34:40

Between storms, a builder in Connecticut uses his skid loader to plow his neighbors' driveways. In Maryland, a good Samaritan hands out water and M&Ms to stranded drivers. The mayor of Philadelphia urges residents to "be kind" and help one another out — and they respond by doing just that.

Across the Northeast, full of large cities where people wear their brusqueness like a badge of honor, neighbors and even strangers are banding together to beat back what's shaping up to be one of the most brutal winters in years — and it appears to be contagious.

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"It seems to have started a whole grass-roots movement of people helping one another," said Cindy Twiss, a school administrator who lives in Milford.

She's among the lucky neighbors of Danny Blanchet, the builder who uses his 7,500-pound yellow "skid steer" to plow Twiss and others out in mere minutes for jobs that would take their shovels hours to complete.

"Last storm I did 35 people," Blanchet said, beaming and decked out in sunglasses and a sweater knitted by his sister. "I just happen to have a bigger shovel than they do. This is a joy for me."

After Blanchet starting showing up with his loader, Twiss said, other neighbors began pitching in. A 14-year-old boy showed up to shovel and refused to take any money. Twiss' next-door neighbor did the whole block with his snow blower.

It's true that this winter's frequent storms — some areas of the East are on track for record snowfalls — may be leading neighbors to interact more and help one another cope, said Lauren Ross, an assistant professor of sociology at Quinnipiac University.

"Because there is this need, people are really stepping up," Ross said. "They become people you can empathize with. It's sort of this collective pattern we're experiencing."

Ross said she experienced it herself when she left her condo to dig out her car and neighbors quickly showed up to help. That led her to help other neighbors, too.

Kevin Writt, of Knoxville, Md., had a similar experience.

He distributed at least 50 bottles of water and 40 packs of M&Ms to motorists who waited hours to cross the U.S. 340 bridge over the Potomac River into Virginia on Wednesday night. Writt — who got the goods from the retail shop at nearby River & Trails Outfitters, where he works as a guide — called it karma.

"Earlier that night, I was helped out of the snow myself by a plow driver for the Maryland State Highway Administration," he said. "It was really just an exercise in empathy."

Shervonne Cherry, creative director at a technology company, said she ran into a six-hour nightmare on Interstate 695 because of an accident ahead of her after leaving work around 5:45 p.m. Wednesday for home in Baltimore.

"People were pretty nice," Cherry said. "There was a group of gentlemen who were making sure that people weren't getting stuck, making sure that all the cars were progressing."

David Papagallo, the landlord of two four-story buildings on busy Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, said he started shoveling the front sidewalk at 7 a.m. Thursday after 19 inches of snow fell on the city. Building owners are required to keep the sidewalks clear, but he took extra pains and was still at it at 10 a.m.

"I do the corners, too, because I don't want people to walk around the moat," Papagallo said. "I do it for myself, but I do it for the smiles."

Image: Newark Mayor Cory Booker shovels snow for a resident.
Julio Cortez  /  AP
Newark Mayor Cory Booker shovels snow Thursday to dig out Jasmine Ingram's vehicle, in Newark, N.J. "It was very nice. I didn't expect it so it was shocking," said Ingram, 20, who was one of four people to have their vehicle dug out by the mayor and a group of residents.

The City of Brotherly Love, where football fans famously booed Santa Claus and threw snowballs at him during a game in 1968, was not immune to post-storm kindnesses.

"The main message of the day is be careful, be kind, look out for other people," Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said after 17 inches of snow fell on the city Thursday. And in at least a few neighborhoods they were taking his advice to heart.

"We all kind of work together when it comes to snow," said Amy Sweeney, 37, a mom who lives in the Northern Liberties neighborhood, attends community college and works part-time at the Electric Factory music venue.

She was shoveling in front of several homes, including that of an older neighbor. She planned to dig out three or four parking spots, then shovel the other side of the block.

Dan McVay, a 37-year-old social worker, cleared the sidewalks of about a half-dozen neighbors by his south Philadelphia rowhouse: someone with a bad back, a neighbor known for shoveling other people's sidewalks, and several homebound, elderly or disabled people.

"It's important that you have a good relationship with them; you share walls and you see them almost every day," McVay said. "It's a good thing to do. It's a good thing to make sure that your neighbors are OK. It's kind of karma — it comes back around in ways that you might not expect it."

In New Jersey, Newark Mayor Cory Booker helped residents dig out cars a month after he won rave reviews from constituents for similar efforts after the post-Christmas blizzard that crippled the region.

Lakeesha Paylor was on her way to dig her own car out when the mayor persuaded her to join forces with him and others in the same predicament, arguing that if the strangers worked together, they could do less work and get more done. Paylor pitched in and helped dig out three cars before the group helped her free her vehicle from a mound of snow.

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"I really appreciate it because we were really stuck," Paylor said.

Jasmine Ingram was also among those who got their cars dug out by the mayor and his helpers.

"It was very nice," Ingram said. "I didn't expect it, so it was shocking."


Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Md., Karen Matthews in New York, Ben Evans in Baltimore, and Erin Vanderberg and Patrick Walters in Philadelphia, and Associated Press photographer Julio Cortez in Newark.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Northeast digs out as another storm looms

  1. Transcript of: Northeast digs out as another storm looms

    WILLIE GEIST, co-host: Meredith , thank you.

    WILLIE GEIST, co-host: Now to that record-breaking storm here in the snow-weary East . This morning thousands remain without power. NBC 's Peter Alexander is in Long Island City, Queens . Peter , good morning.

    PETER ALEXANDER reporting: Willie , good morning to you. The immediate concern for drivers today is going to be black ice. With a lot of that snow melting yesterday overnight temperatures dropping below freezing, you really have to be careful where you drive. But for a lot of the drivers, the real problem is just getting your car out. This snow pile is at least six feet wide, that's just to get to this guy's car. It could be days before they get it out. And listen to this stat. There have been 155 daily snowfalls broken this month of January alone from Lexington , Kentucky , to Hartford , Connecticut . And there is another storm in the forecast. Now the back-breaking cleanup again. Slammed by another 19 inches at Central Park , enough to make this New York City 's snowiest January on record. The city's aggressive response Thursday included more than 1700 plows.

    Unidentified Man #1: I'm getting sick of it, honestly.

    ALEXANDER: In the nation's capital...

    Unidentified Reporter: This is a sharp snow, it's an angry snow, and it bites you as it hits your face.

    ALEXANDER: ...the pounding snow proved deadly as trees crashed onto cars killing one woman and just missing Alan Ishihara .

    Mr. ALAN ISHIHARA: I was just about to leave, and the next thing you know the tree fell right on top of my head.

    ALEXANDER: Near Boston two men have their own harrowing survival story after the roof of this parking garage collapsed beneath heavy snow trapping them inside. Firefighters spent three hours digging through snow and mangled steel to pull them to safety.

    Unidentified Man #2: We almost got crushed. The roof of the car got almost this far from us, and we just found a little way to breathe.

    Unidentified Man #3: We're real lucky to be here today and be alive.

    ALEXANDER: Across this region most would agree, enough already. Thousands of drivers simply abandoned their cars on the street. While the storm itself was forecast, its intensity caught many people by surprise. In Gloucester , Massachusetts , residents expected four inches and woke up to 14. The crippling snow is piling up this season. The five hardest hit cities so war, Worcester , Mass. , 62 inches; Boston , 62 as well; Hartford , 71 inches and now its all-time snowiest month on record; Rochester , New York , 76; and in Syracuse , a jaw-dropping 113 inches, nearly 10 feet . Today airlines hope to finish clearing their backlog of passengers after the storm grounded more than 1200 flights around New York alone. Thousands are still without power. And for millions of students it's back to class after a snow day , only the ninth in 33 years for New York City schools. But you can imagine where their heads might be. Do you like to go fast or slow?

    Mr. ADAM LUKIES: Medium.

    ALEXANDER: Medium. Good answer. It was a pretty good answer, thanks to Adam Lukies in Connecticut . He also introduced me to the snow five. But, Willie , to be fair, this is a very serious topic for a lot of people. The American Red Cross today is reporting that its blood levels are at the lowest level they have been for January in 10 years largely because a lot of people have canceled their donations because of the bad weather.

    GEIST: All right. Still a long way to go to dig out. Peter Alexander , thanks so much. How much snow is on the way this time? We will get a forecast in just a moment.

Photos: East Coast storm

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  1. Two men push a stuck car though the snow on Thursday, Jan. 27, in the Bronx Borough of New York. The overnight snow left more than a foot of snow in the area. (Don Emmert / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Passengers wait Thursday for the John F. Kennedy International Airport to reopen after it was closed overnight due to heavy snowfall. (Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A pedestrian makes his way through Morningside Park in Manhattan after snow blanketed New York City on Thursday. (Jonathan D. Woods / Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Stella Anderson, 6, and her father, Roger Anderson catch air while sledding near Columbus Circle in New York City's Central Park on Thursday. Mayor Michael Bloomberg canceled school and shut down non-emergency government offices. (Jonathan D. Woods / Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Pedestrians jump over the slush and snow along 7th Avenue in New York before the big snowfall. (John Makely / Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A flag pokes above the snow around mounds of covered grave markers at Veterans Memorial Field in East Hartford, Conn., on Thursday. (Jessica Hill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Ira Abney negotiates snow-covered subway stairs in the aftermath of the storm in Philadelphia on Thursday. (Matt Rourke / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A man shovels a walkway to a mailbox in Manchester, Conn., after another winter storm on Thursday. (Jessica Hill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Planes are grounded on a snow covered tarmac at New York's LaGuardia Airport on Thursday. (Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A man shovels snow off his car on the upper west side of New York City on Thursday. (Mike Segar / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Three men attempt to free an automobile from the snow on New York's Upper West Side on Thursday. (Richard Drew / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Pedestrians make their way past a pile of snow along Sixth Avenue in New York. (John Makely / Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Abandoned vehicles litter the George Washington Parkway in McLean, Virginia, just outside Washington on Thursday. The snowstorm caused havoc as many motorists abandoned their stranded vehicles during evening rush-hour in the Capital region. (Hyungwon Kang / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. A young boy and his father with their sled hike up Cedar Hill in New York's Central Park on Thursday, the morning after another storm dumped more than a foot of snow in some areas overnight. All New York City public schools and non-emergency city government offices were closed. (Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Footprints in the snow are seen in front of the Lincoln Memorial, looking toward the Washington Monument on Thursday. (Jacquelyn Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Following an overnight snow storm that hit the New York area, a man shovels a sidewalk in Hoboken, New Jersey, on Thursday morning. (Gary Hershorn / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A man walks down W. 49th St. in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York after a blizzard on Thursday. (Jonathan D. Woods / Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Workers clear a platform at the Edison train station as snow falls during a storm late Wednesday, Jan. 26, in Edison, N.J. (Mel Evans / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Outbound traffic creeps along Interstate 66 across the Potomac River from Washington, in Arlington, Va. after a major winter storm snarled rush hour traffic in the Nation's Capitol, Wednesday. (J. David Ake / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. A snow plow clears the front of the White House as a storm hits Washington late Wednesday. (Jason Reed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. As seen from a motorcade vehicle, a portion of the motorcade carrying President Barack Obama makes its way through snarled traffic and spun out cars on Suitland Parkway on Wednesday near Morningside, Md., enroute to the White House in Washington. (Carolyn Kaster / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A woman makes her way down a snowy sidewalk on Wednesday in New York City. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A subway train exits a tunnel into snowfall as commuters wait at a station on Wednesday in Brooklyn. (Bebeto Matthews / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Joel Chuta clears sidewalks at Belvedere Square, Wednesday in north Baltimore. Snow and slush covered the Baltimore region in the morning with heavier accumulations expected later in the day. (Amy Davis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Snow-covered bicycles are parked on the University of Delaware Newark campus Wednesday. (The News Journal/robert Craig / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A vehicle lies on its side along Kelly Drive during as a winter storm moved into Philadelphia on Wednesday. (Matt Rourke / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. An exercise rider drives a horse through a snowstorm at Yonkers Raceway in Yonkers, New York, on Wednesday. Heavy snow moved into the New York City area as a fast moving winter storm worked its way up the northeastern U.S. coast. (Mike Segar / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Charlene Cruz attempts Wednesday to walk with her daughter Carmelia, 18 months, along U.S. Route 6 in Bristol, Conn. near the intersection with Oakland Street during the latest winter storm to hit Southern New England. (Mike Orazzi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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Map: Winter weather


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