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Ice-covered walkways: Dig in like a mountain climber

Friday, January 15, 1999

By Marylynne Pitz and Sally Kalson, Post-Gazette Staff Writers

For many people, the trip to Downtown yesterday wasn't the challenge.

  You shovel away one layer, and the skies deliver another coating of snow, sleet and ice. This Pittsburgh woman clears the steps to a home in which she works yesterday along Castleman Street in Shadyside. (John Beale, Post-Gazette)

Those who made it found that main roads were salted and passable but soon discovered that icy, slushy sidewalks and crosswalks were the real problem.

A determined Dormont woman, Eithne Hartnett, is a retired Allegheny County employee. Her mission, which she readily accepted, was to buy a new pair of Ice Walkers , a set of stainless steel cleats that loop snugly over boots.

The cleats, Hartnett insisted, give pedestrians an inside edge. She found a pair for $7.95 plus tax at Ullrich's Shoe Repair in the Union Trust Building.

"It's difficult when it's all ice," Hartnett said, adding that she digs into icy sidewalks and streets just as mountain climbers dig into rocks with the crampons attached to their boots.

Rex Streno, who works the counter at Ullrich's, said he sold a dozen pairs of Ice Walkers in the last two days and plans to order more for customers.

As he delivered mail in the Perry Hilltop area of the city's North Side, Paul Klein was not wearing Ice Walkers.

Instead, he walked carefully in rubber-soled, calf-high boots that are standard issue for U.S. Postal Service letter carriers.

"Today was the worst day, so far," Klein said.

Side streets, Klein said, were "pretty bad. Once it started raining in the early afternoon, it came down and it immediately froze. It looked like an ice skating rink just after the Zamboni machine left the ice. There were no ridges, no nothing, just one solid sheet of ice."

Jim Novelly, an employee at Rollier's Hardware in Mt. Lebanon, stocks calcium chloride as customer Ria Gentile Biaz of Mt. Lebanon picks up a couple bags for use around her home. (Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette) 

Klein, who has delivered mail on the North Side for 17 years, said he skipped his two 10-minute breaks and half-hour lunch period yesterday so that the mail would arrive on time.

During his five hours of delivery, Klein said, "I fell just once. You're used to being out there. In some situations, you lose your footing."

Ralph Kraszewski, director of Pittsburgh's Department of Public Works, said yesterday was "a rough day, very unusual. I don't think I've seen as many repeated ice events in a 24-hour period. I've been doing this for 30 years."

Most of those who staff the region's emergency rooms said they have been pleasantly surprised because the number of serious injuries from falls has not been as high as they had expected.

"I thought for sure Sunday was going to be fractured-hip day, but we only had one. I was expecting at least five," said Cathie Cannon, director of nursing at UPMC South Side, where the neighborhood streets are steep and many of the residents elderly.

"The staff has been surprised that we're not seeing more, considering the conditions out there. We think it's because people are listening to what the media are telling them about using caution, driving slower and staying home if they possibly can."

It also helped that so many activities were canceled - especially the bingo games.

"If the bingo's open, people will take the risk," Cannon said.

There was a similar story north of Pittsburgh.

"We thought it would be worse than it is, based on the weather reports," said Dr. William Kristan, chairman of the department of emergency medicine at UPMC Passavant in McCandless.

"We're busy, but no more than normal. Compared to the weekend, this is nothing. I'm speculating it's because people are paying attention to all the news reports and cautions."

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