Heavy, early snowfall creates commute from hell for Montclair residents
COURTESY BETH CHUCKER
By Erin Roll and Jaimie Julia Winters
When Montclair Local put out a query to Montclairites on Thursday asking how they were enjoying the early-season snowfall, the responses came pouring in and they weren't pretty.
"Go take a look at the intersection of Valley and Bloomfield, or Claremont and Valley, or Bloomfield and Prospect, and you’ll see how much fun everyone’s having. A disastrous day," wrote Magnolia Bennett.
Instead of photos of children building snowman or stories of sitting around a fire with hot cocoa, readers relayed their stories of hours-long commutes and school buses not dropping off kids until 7:30 p.m.
The late, fall snow storm wreaked havoc on the area One resident described a commute of four hours home from Newark, while Agnes Valkai told of a six-and-a-half-hour drive home from Ramsey, a roughly 17-mile journey.
But it was the students who seem to have had it the hardest.
Snow began at around 2 p.m., quickly blanketing roadways. When Montclair schools let out at its regular dismissal, bus scheduling began to back up as quickly as the roads. As a result, some buses were at least two hours late leaving the schools. Nishuane, Hillside and Renaissance students were still waiting for their buses as of 6:30 p.m.
Kathy Maloy said her son didn’t make it home from Watchung School until 7:25 p.m.
“Usually home at 3:35 p.m," she said. "Obviously not going to school tomorrow after that fiasco."
Lisa Gomberg of Montclair said her son, an 11th-grader at West Caldwell Tech, was still not home at 8:30 p.m.
An alert from the district on Thursday declared that “the weather conditions are worse than predicted. Three schools have students being supervised by administrators and are awaiting buses to transport them home. Renaissance has one bus en route, Nishuane has three buses en route, and Hillside has five buses en route. An email to Renaissance, Nishuane, and Hillside families has been sent.”
At 8 p.m. Johnson sent an email stating all students were home.
“Our challenge in Montclair is unique," Johnson wrote. "Here, we use a staggered dismissal process. In this process, same buses are used for multiple schools. If there is one issue with a bus, for example, three to six schools could be impacted. As a MPS Central Office team, we will debrief our systems tomorrow to reflect and enhance practices moving forward."
As school was letting out, firefighters helped push cars of waiting parents stuck in the snow, said Jacqueline Kobaidze. After getting pushed free, she decided to park the car, leave it and walk, afraid to drive on the roads. A fireman gave the her plastic bags to wear on their feet, and the school nurse in a SUV with snow tires saw them walking and got them safely home.
“They may be everyday people to some, but to me they are heroes,” Kobaidze said.
At around 5:30 p.m. those firefighters were back on the street, this time battling a house fire on Walnut Street and Valley Road. All residents were reported to be evacuated safely, and the fire was out by 8 p.m. but the building is uninhabitable.
Schools were closed the next day.