Clearing the gridlock created by Blizzard of '78

Thousands of cars blocked roads and highways after the Blizzard of '78. (WJAR)

The Blizzard of '78 was winding down 40 years ago Wednesday night. For many, it's the storm they'll never forget. For those who weren't around then, it's a cautionary tale.

When the snow finally stopped about 33 hours after it began, there was 2 to 5 feet of snow, with 15-foot drifts, that smothered Southern New England. Digging out and getting on with life, for those who survived, was just beginning.

Joe Pucino was part of the family-owned Pucino Brothers Towing Service based in East Greenwich that specialized in towing trucks.

The forecast for the night before, Sunday, Feb. 5, was for heavy snow on Monday, 12 to 18 inches, starting before sunrise.

"So, we would always watch the weather. This was supposed to start. It didn't start," remembered Pucino.

"What's going on? Next thing we know, it started. Then the calls started coming in. It's really coming down," he said with the animation of a kid getting ready to go sledding. "I got a call from the state police for a tractor-trailer stuck on 95."

The second day, Feb. 7, it took until the afternoon to dig the tow trucks out to get the second round of service going.

"Everything was plowed in and cold and frozen. And the wind, it was crazy!" add Pucino. "Police are calling, get the cars, we got to clear the road. We got to get going."

He said the police asked them to write down license plate and VIN information so they would "know what you got and we can get ahold of people."

With the fear that some people might have been trapped in their cars, reportedly as there were 14 found dead near Boston on Interstate 95, "We're uncovering buried cars that had been sitting there, you know," recalled Pucino. "And there was some police with us and rescue guys with us, and thank god, we never found anything. They never did either. A lot of people left the cars and just dispersed in the neighborhoods and tried to get back home."

It took nearly a week to get the main roads and interstates at least partially opened again.

Bill Dydowicz, a WJAR-TV live truck operator and technician who was the communications lifeline for the region, summed up the entire experience by saying, "I think it just snowballed, and everybody took it in stride."

As you can imagine, it was taking a long time for the 15-foot snow drifts to melt. And that WJAR-TV live truck parked outside the bunker on the Francis Street side of the Rhode Island State House? It, like many other vehicles across the region, was stuck in place. It was lifted out by a crane.

Because of the Blizzard of '78, bread and milk runs are now a common occurrence, and lots of trepidation when heavy snow or blizzards are in the forecast.

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