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RIEMA director: State’s response to blizzard was ‘successful’

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — One day after a blizzard dumped about a foot of snow on Rhode Island, the director of the state’s Emergency Management Agency said he was pleased by the response to the storm.

“We closed state government, we begged and pleaded throughout the day for people to stay off the roads,” Pete Gaynor said in an interview with Eyewitness News on Friday. “We were pleasantly surprised at the low amount of accidents and calls for service yesterday. I credit Rhode Islanders for listening to our message.”

Rhode Island State Police said there were 16 car crashes between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Thursday, plus 156 drivers asked for assistance after sliding off the road. No serious injuries were reported.

Gaynor said he didn’t hear any reports of emergency services not being able to reach their destinations.

The biggest problem on the roads appeared to be when dozens of drivers were stuck for hours on I-95 in Hopkinton. The highway was closed after tractor-trailers couldn’t make it up a slight incline, blocking the way.

Gaynor and Gov. Gina Raimondo repeatedly implored drivers not to go on the slippery roads, but did not declare a state of emergency.

“Although we considered it, it wasn’t really appropriate,” Gaynor said. “The core thing about a state of emergency is…you’re saying to the president that you have exceeded all your state resources. And that was not the case yesterday.”

Gaynor said lessons are always learned each storm, and his team met Friday to debrief.

“Could we have been clearer about the message that we wanted to get out there?” he asked. “When we closed government it was late at night, could we have done it earlier?”  A notification about the closure of state offices was sent at 11:38 p.m Wednesday., after the traditional 11 p.m. newscasts were over.

Gaynor said the team is now getting ready for storms that are in the forecast next week.

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