Peninsula, Hampton Roads winter snowstorm stories

Scenes and snippets from around the Peninsula:

The Virginia Beer Co. at 401 Second Street in Williamsburg opened at noon Sunday in time for its normal hours after staff spent about five hours shoveling the walkways, entryways and outdoor beer garden Saturday and Sunday, co-founder Robby Willey said. A contractor who helped out with the facility’s initial build-out, David A. Nice Builders, plowed the parking lot Saturday afternoon, he said.

Willey, along with a couple staff members in walking distance, shoveled some walkways Saturday although the brewery was closed because some friends came into town from Milwaukee and wanted to see the new business. Willey said it was the first time the brewery had closed for such an event since opening at the end of March in 2016.

After all the shoveling on Sunday morning, Willey said the crew shared pints of beer together around an outdoor fire pit. Customers, including a birthday party, also came by Sunday and the Virginia Beer co-workers indulged in snowball fights, Willey said.

“It made for beautiful scenery and it was kind of fun to see that kind of snow because in Virginia, you don’t always get that kind of winter,” Willey said.

***

Alex Cowan became all too familiar with the icy patches on Longhill Road, near Old Towne Road in Williamsburg on Saturday afternoon.

Cowan’s blue four-door sedan slid into the snow bank lining the road, becoming firmly lodged in place. Eight people hopped out of other cars to try to help the 26-year-old and his girlfriend, Katie Patterson.

Both from Portsmouth, they were on the Peninsula for a free weekend stay Cowan had won awhile back. Patterson said they didn’t count on the storm.

"It's not so bad out there, but this was the worst road so far," Patterson said.

Just after Cowan’s car got stuck, a tow truck heading in the same direction, just past Old Towne road, also slid off into the snow bank.

In the same ten-yard stretch of road, eight people were pushing Cowan’s car out of the bank, and a large SUV was trying to pull the tow-truck out. After ten minutes of effort, neither was successful.

Cowan’s tires couldn’t find traction on the ice, and the tow truck’s front bumper was creaking in an alarming way, as if it might come right off. 

Two people who stopped to help Cowan said they’d been digging out stuck cars all day.

This time Trevon and Elizabeth Stuckey were on their way to a friend’s house when they spotted the blue sedan.

“We’ve been helping all day, whenever we see somebody we stop,” Trevon Stuckey said.

They’d already used a shovel to dig out two cars in similar situations and were talking about use a rope to tow Cowan out. As dusk fell, Elizabeth Stuckey was optimistic they’d be successful. 

“We got someone else stuck like this out earlier, but we had a shovel,” she said.

***

Stella Watterson, 3, wasn’t taking a little snow as a reason not to ride on a swing near the banks of the James River in Newport News.

“Not by a long shot,” her mother said.

“Higher, higher, higher,” the girl said several times as her mother pushed her at a city park behind Hilton Elementary School on Saturday afternoon.

Larisa Watterson, 33, who lives in Hilton Village, said that Stella and her 6-year-old brother, Coen, woke her up early Saturday morning to play in the snow.

Watterson, who works at the Department of Defense’s Employee Assistance Program – which often takes calls from people in crisis or needing help – wasn’t closed because of the storm. With the EAP taking calls 24/7, Saturday was just her regular day off.

But her husband, Kevin, who manages a Fresh Market in Williamsburg, said the grocery store was closed and likely would be closed on Sunday, too. So perhaps Stella will get her ride in the swing on that day, too.

***

The rhythmic scratch of Scott Hemler’s shovel against brick broke the silence as snow fell on Prince George Street in Merchants Square around 8 a.m. this morning.
Hemler, a Colonial Williamsburg Operations worker, took a break from his current task of clearing the brick sidewalk outside of Aroma’s Coffeehouse to reflect on the storm.
While he’s seen some larger storms in his 21 years in the job, this weekend’s snowfall was certainly noteworthy, he said.
“It’s one of the big ones,” Hemler said, who had been working since earlier that morning.
Hemler was one of a number of Colonial Williamsburg Operations crew out on Saturday, clearing sidewalks and doing other work to dig out Duke of Gloucester Street and nearby areas owned by the Foundation like Merchants Square though most stores, including Aromas, were closed.
Once he reached a stopping place, Hemler jumped in the driver’s seat of an operations pickup truck and drove off to work elsewhere.

***

The Peninsula Rescue Mission in Newport News has only received a couple phone calls today ahead of its 4 p.m. opening time.

A staff worker said that the men's shelter, located at 3700 Huntington Ave., will let men inside between 4 p.m. through 9 p.m., or until room fills up.

Despite the cold weather, only a couple calls have come in, the worker said, who declined to share his name. The shelter offers warm meals and showers.

Regulars end up staying between a week and 10 days, if there's enough room, he said.

 ***

Harry Leonard, a volunteer with the Gloucester United Emergency Shelter Team, said they were doing “whatever it takes” to make sure no one was left out in the cold on Saturday.
Altering the shelter’s normal schedule because of the snow, meant turning the Gloucester Moose Lodge into an overnight shelter for the weekend.
“It’s very important that we keep these people out of the weather. That’s what we are here for,” Leonard said.
The call was made on Friday to move guests and volunteers from the scheduled host site at Olive Branch United Methodist Church to the Moose Lodge for easy access to the day shelter, which is located on adjacent property.
About 13 homeless people stayed overnight with volunteers coming in and out for modified shifts.
“If I have to work two shifts because others can’t then I have to work two shifts – whatever it takes,” Leonard said.

***

By 11 a.m., Jim Woytasch had already braved 2 miles in the snow. He was dressed for the venture: warm hat, waterproof jacket, gloves and goggles — not to mention the cross-country skis strapped to his feet.

"The skis that I have aren't really the type for this type of snow and it's not groomed and all that, but it's still fantastic," Woytasch said.

Instead of gliding through snow in New York like he usually does, on Saturday, Woytasch walked out his front door for his first ski trip of the year.

Poles in both hands, he was headed toward Colonial Williamsburg, taking advantage of the unusual snowfall in his hometown.

"Might as well cross country here rather than go anywhere else, it's just great," Woytasch said. "It's still fantastic just to get out here and it's free and it's great and there's no one around."

By 11 a.m. some areas of Williamsburg had accumulated up to a half-foot of snow, not counting the many drifts.

Woytasch said maybe snowshoeing would be better, but kept on trekking, one careful step at a time.

***

Similar to most extreme weather storms and disasters in America, people in Hampton Roads are showing a sense of community during the snow storm.

This morning, three men and a police officer gathered to help Robert Page get his Mercedes Benz out of the snow.

Like many, Page was on his way to work at the post office in Grafton, when his car got stuck in about 6 inches of snow on Route 17.

"The only reason I'm driving is because I have to get to work. Since I'm stuck I already told them I can't make it. This snow storm is a mess," Page said.

After noticing the situation, the officer and the three other men flicked on their blinkers and walked towards Page's car.

Banning together, they pushed him out of the snow and helped him move off the road until a tow truck came.

One of those men, Justin Wright of Newport News, had been driving his 4-wheel drive Jeep around Newport News, Hampton and Yorktown from late Friday night into the morning.

"I was helping someone out right before this and then I saw everyone so I figured I'd stop here and help to!" Wright said enthusiastically.

He intends to continue driving around throughout the snow storm with the sole purpose of helping random strangers like Page, who need help navigating the tough snow.

"I've been out since last night and haven't slept at all. I've been driving around pulling people out because one time I've needed help and someone came to get me. It's my duty to pay it back," Wright said.

After spending more than 16 hours helping community members get their cars out of the snow, he said next up will be "a little lunch" before he gets back to work.

*** 

If it wasn’t for the “livestock” at his store, Pet Castle owner Richard Clayton said he would not have ventured out Saturday morning.
“I’ve got to make sure everything is OK,” he said. “The animals have to have food and water and it’s better for me to come and check on them than have my employees come out to do it.”
His biggest worry for the rest of the day, he said, will be whether or not the power goes out. No power means no heat for the fish and reptiles.
“If that happens it looks like we will have a bunch of animals at home,” Clayton said.
Since opening the store in Hayes nearly 10 years ago, he said they have only lost power twice for an extended amount of time.
Clayton decided close the store on Saturday and head back home. He hopes to open for normal hours on Sunday.

***

St. Jerome Catholic Church in Denbigh, a member of the Hampton Roads LINK program, had opened its doors to those who need a place to stay through the storm.

"It's very good because we would die in the cold," said Kariem Majeed, a man who is staying there until Monday morning.

Typically, St. Jerome allows people to stay from 6:30 p.m. until 6:30 a.m. daily from November through the end of March, said Joyce O'Brien, a program manager at the church. But the forecast for a blizzard prompted program leaders to open their doors through the weekend, she said.

The program will give the temporary guests three meals a day. On Saturday morning, some of the 30 guests were watching a movie -- brought in by a Newport News sheriff's deputy who served as security. While some napped, others including Raymond Bradby played cards.

Bradby said he was at Patrick Henry Mall on Friday night with his girlfriend, trying to figure out how to get to St. Jerome, when he saw a Newport News police officer. The cop gave the couple and a third person a courtesy ride to the church, he said.

"This means staying out of the cold, staying out of the weather," Bradby said.

One of the guests peeked outside the church door to see the snow, stood in silence for a moment and said, "Lord have mercy," drawing laughs from the deputy and O'Brien.

***

Ace Hardware in Hampton Town Center opened on time Saturday morning, though it will close around 3 p.m., so employees can arrive home by dark.

"We're out of ice melt, we have two shovels left," cashier Tyler Snavely said.

The store was jam packed all day Friday, said Snavely's coworker, Jerry Schenck. Lines ran the length of the store most of the day Friday when Schenck got in around 7:30 a.m., until he left a little after 6 p.m., he said.

The store went through eight pallets of ice melt and hundreds of shovels Friday, Schenck said. It's also currently sold out of brushes and ice scrapers. Customers have also been buying batteries and face masks.

One customer stopped in the store early Saturday morning to purchase multiple face masks and a snow brush.

"It was a madhouse here yesterday," Schenck said. "And we're still trying to figure out why we're here today."

*** 

Crystal Lopez was tearful as she uttered through her half-open car window, "Bills don't stop because of the snow."

Lopez was one of five cars stuck on the overpass along Oyster Point Road heading towards Warwick Boulevard.

The single mom explained that she was driving in the heavy snow storm in order to drop her two children off at their babysitter and then head to work.

After getting stuck, she didn't think she would make it to work and was visibly emotional about the realization.

"It's ridiculous trying to get to work right now but I understand. I have two kids and should have known better because I have a small car, but I have to go to work and make a living for my kids," Lopez said.

***

Laurie Allen, store manager of a 7-Eleven in Hampton, arrived at the store around 5:30 a.m. Saturday.

No employees have called out so far today, she said.

Allen sent a text to employees Friday night letting them know she could give them a ride to work if they were nervous about getting to the store.

"Still got to run the store," Allen said.

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