PORTLAND – The Blizzard of 2013 transformed Portland overnight, from bustling streets Friday into a largely deserted cityscape by Saturday morning.
The city was blanketed with snowdrifts sculpted by the high winds into cresting white waves that climbed walls and blocked doorways.
Freshly plowed streets throughout the peninsula, from the West End to the Old Port to Munjoy Hill, were unusually quiet.
Few drivers and curious pedestrians ventured out. Some people were starting to shovel sidewalks, and a few stranded tourists tried to find something to do.
Ryan Wilson, owner of ‘Til Death tattoo shop on Fore Street, described a different scene Friday night when revelers, excited by the record-breaking snowstorm, were sledding down Exchange Street, yelling “game on” when the route was safe, and “game off” when a plow truck came through.
Wilson walked down Exchange Street shortly before noon Saturday, looking at the plowed but empty street as he prepared to shovel out his shop in preparation for a customer at 1 p.m.
“Nothing’s open. No one’s around, except a select couple people who are crazy to be out,” he said.
Wilson was unprepared for the snow — he had no gloves and wore shoes wrapped in plastic bags instead of proper boots. Though he still owns the shop, he moved last month to California and only came back Tuesday for a visit.
“We had heard that there was a storm coming, but we didn’t realize it was going to be this bad,” said Wilson, a Belfast native. “I don’t think I remember seeing anything this big — maybe when I was a little kid, but everything seems deeper when you’re a little kid.”
Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, speaking at a news conference at the city’s Public Services Offices on Portland Street on Saturday morning, asked motorists and pedestrians to stay off city streets.
“We’ve broken records. We’ve set history. But we need help from the people of Portland,” Brennan said. “It’s still unsafe to be out there. We’re asking the people in the city to work with us to give us time to clean up the storm.”
But Brennan also asked those who were out to call the police or fire departments if they saw someone in trouble.
“We are Mainers, and we’re used to this, but the thing Mainers do and the people of Portland do is we look out for each other,” Brennan said.
Snow-clearing crews from the Department of Public Services have been at work since Friday morning, and the city has called in outside contractors to help clear streets, Public Services Director Mike Bobinsky said.
Plow drivers were concentrating on major arteries and connector roads, but had gone over each city street at least twice by late Saturday morning, Bobinsky said.
“Sidewalk work will take a little longer, particularly outside school areas,” he said. “That may take four or five days.”
Snow was piled 5 feet high and 6 feet wide down the middle of Commercial Street, waiting to be trucked away and dumped.
Bobinsky said trucking the snow out of the city will take time. Crews will move some of it to a location off Somerset Street in Bayside and will haul more snow to an area adjacent to the airport on outer Congress Street, he said.
Dan Lord, the maintenance man at Matthew’s on Free Street, began shoveling out the sidewalk in front of the pub before 9 a.m. He said this is the biggest snowstorm he has seen in his life.
“This is the doozy,” said Lord, a lifelong Portland resident. “I think this tops it all.”
Donato Iannucci, a retired school teacher from Old Orchard Beach, was visiting Portland with family. On Saturday morning, he was out walking on Commercial Street, smiling and taking it all in.
“This is an annual trip we take. It’s a pub crawl. We’ve done it for years,” Iannucci said.
He said his family knew the storm was coming, but decided to make the trip anyway and stay in a hotel to keep the annual pub crawl tradition alive.
“It’s the biggest (snowstorm) I’ve seen. I’m 61 years old. I remember the one in ’78, and this seems bigger,” Iannucci said.
Lori and Kent Laventure of Manchester, N.H., stopped on Moulton Street as they walked around the Old Port looking for a place to eat lunch and trying to find out whether the Nickelodeon movie theater would open.
“We had planned to come up for a pre-Valentine’s getaway,” Lori Laventure said.
The couple said they came up a night earlier than they had planned to avoid traveling in the snow and found a great rate at a bed and breakfast thanks to the storm.
“It would be better if something was open,” Kent Laventure said. “You can only stay in the bed and breakfast so long.”
Kirsten Thomsen of Portland said she and her husband walked to the waterfront Saturday morning to see high tide, boosted by a strong storm surge, around 10 a.m. and then stopped at the Portland Harbor Hotel on Fore Street for lunch.
“There are people at the hotel who are stuck, and they probably won’t be able to fly out until Monday,” Thomsen said.
Thomsen said she moved to Portland three years ago from Washington, D.C., which is crippled by storms much smaller than this.
“They do not know how to plow like people do in Maine,” Thomsen said. “Here in Maine, people know what to do to get back to normal pretty quickly.”
Staff Writer Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at: