It's already been a life-changing, deadly winter in St. John's. Are we ready for what's next?

Bruce Tilley/CBC

As the City of St. John's prepares for its largest snow storm of the season, Mayor Danny Breen said calling a state of emergency is an option.

As much as 70 centimetres could fall between Thursday night and Saturday morning, on top of 170 centimetres that has already fallen on the metro region.

The city has already taken heat for its job clearing snow, but Breen says everyone is doing the best they can with what Mother Nature has provided.

"We had an extraordinary situation here with all this snow so quickly," Breen told reporters Thursday morning.

Sidewalks have been packed with snow and ice since the first storm on Christmas Eve. Breen said town workers are struggling to clear the routes, because before they can finish the job, there is another snowfall and they have to start from the beginning again.

Breen said crews have been working around the clock in the last few days to prepare for the incoming storm.

The onslaught of snow so far this winter has forced people to walk in the streets on busy routes. Since Jan. 1, an alarming number of pedestrians have been struck by cars.

Tragedy through a lens

Keith Gosse photographs tragedy for a living but even for him, last Saturday was unusual.

In one "hectic" day, four pedestrians were hit by vehicles in three separate collisions. As a photojournalist for the Telegram, Gosse was responsible for taking pictures of the aftermath. 

Paula Gale/CBC

"It's not pretty. They're lying on the road, after being struck by a car. It's not a fun scene to deal with," he said. "You don't usually don't get that many in such a short time span."

Since Jan 1, one pedestrian has been killed and eight others injured in seven separate collisions around the metro region. For Gosse, that means exposure to things most people never have to see.

"I've seen some pretty graphic stuff," he said. "One of the victims from the Mount Pearl incident on Saturday suffered a non-life-threatening injury, but it's going to be completely life-changing for that person."

I don't know what the answer is. But we need to do a better job. - Greg Naterer

Gosse said the process has taken a psychological toll on him.

"I've come home from some pretty bad scenes and had to sit down and just stare at a wall for a half-hour because it's something that I don't ever want to see again."

One fatality following a collision

Memorial University engineering professor John Shirokoff, 63, was struck by a vehicle while walking along the side of the road on Jan. 4. 

He died five days later from what the RNC described as "complications connected to his injuries."

Memorial University of Newfoundland

Greg Naterer, the dean of MUN's engineering department, was one of the last people to see Shirokoff in the hospital after the accident. 

"I was quite fortunate because I made it into the intensive-care unit just before he was about to go into the surgery, so I shared some last words with John. At that time, we all had thought that he would recover from the surgery. Unfortunately he didn't," Naterer said.

Naterer described Shirokoff as a wonderful man, friend and colleague. He said the professor was dedicated to his students, even in his final moments.

"A thing that will stay with me forever is his concern for his students at that time. Just before going into surgery, not complaining, not bitter, not really talking much about his pain, but his concern for his students."

Paula Gale/CBC

Shirokoff was an expert on material science and engineering, and supervised more than 40 graduate students. Naterer said those students were devastated when they heard Shirokoff had died. At a celebration of life held by the university, attendance was so high that Naterer said some people had to sit on the floor.

"That's the type of person that John was."

Naterer said he hopes Shirokoff's death sends a clear message about road clearing and pedestrian safety.

"He was walking along the side of Elizabeth Avenue and, as we know, pedestrian safety and clearing of sidewalks is an issue in this city.… I don't know what the answer is. But we need to do a better job," he said. 

"Pedestrian safety has to be right up there. It's not like, secondary."

What can be done?

Breen, along with Coun. Ian Froude, said the council will look at all options to improve safety and snow clearing around St. John's.

The current snow-clearing budget is $18 million — a significant portion of the overall budget. Last year, the city added $150,000 to its budget for sidewalk clearing.

The budget is based on the assumption of getting 350 centimetres of snow each year.


Breen said if more money is to be allocated, it would result either in cuts to other areas or a tax hike for citizens but he said the city will consider it.

Sidewalk clearing is done on a priority basis. School zones rank first, followed by major thoroughfares and then secondary streets.

"The challenge with this particular storm is that we have not gotten all the way through the Priority 1 routes before we get hit by another storm," Froude said. "Then the plows have to revert back to those Priority 1s, those school zones, before they can move on to the next section."

While a state of emergency is possible, Breen said he hasn't given any thought to calling in the Canadian Armed Forces, which has been done in other Canadian cities, most notably Toronto in 1999 after 38 centimetres of snow.

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