As a battering snowstorm stranded ambulances and hundreds of 911 calls piled up unresolved, Annie O'Daly knew she might have to wait for help after slipping and breaking her ankle on Sunday night.
She didn't think she'd be waiting for 30 hours.
Help finally arrived at the 58-year-old woman's Brooklyn home Tuesday morning at 2:30 a.m., said her husband, Jim Leonhardt, who described her ordeal. Three emergency medical technicians — themselves recovering from being stranded earlier in an ambulance for eight hours — and Leonhardt carried her out on a gurney onto the unplowed street, wheeled her down the block and lifted her over a snowbank, he said.
O'Daly was among hundreds of New Yorkers left waiting for help during the blizzard and its aftermath, as emergency responders grappled with snow-clogged streets, many blocked by cars that had been abandoned mid-storm. At one point, 911 operators had a backlog of 1,300 calls.
Dozens of ambulances got stuck in the storm, and on Tuesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said ambulance drivers probably erred in driving on unplowed roads. Instead, they should have stayed on cleared roads and walked down snowy streets to respond to calls, he said.
O'Daly, a Bay Ridge resident, passed the hours after her 8 p.m. fall lying on the floor of her home, pale-faced and screaming in agony whenever anyone tried to move her leg or adjust a pillow. Her daughter, grandson, husband and neighbors took turns keeping her company, while she took some old prescription pain medication that wasn't nearly strong enough. Her family improvised a splint for her ankle. At times, she just lay there crying, Leonhardt said.
"She just said it was agony," Leonhardt said. "She'd never felt anything like that. Even when she'd had her baby she never felt that."
"Constant pain will make you crazy after a little while," he said.
Fire officials could not confirm the specifics of Leonhardt's account but said some people may have experienced significant delays as emergency responders focused on the most serious cases. Ambulances from elsewhere in New York state and New Jersey helped out during the storm, and by Tuesday morning, the backlog had been reduced to fewer than 175 calls.
"The call for someone in cardiac arrest is going to get priority over someone with a broken arm. And that is especially true in the immediate aftermath of a blizzard," said Steve Ritea, a Fire Department of New York spokesman. "We have to prioritize the people who need our services."
City officials asked people to call 911 only in a life-threatening situation.
The fire department said it received more than 4,000 911 calls during the storm — its busiest day in recent memory, apart from the 9/11 terror attack. There were a few cases during the first night in which ambulances were stuck with patients inside, but EMTs remained with them.
Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said he could not say whether there were any deaths or serious injuries related to the backlog. Bloomberg said the city was reviewing how its 911 dispatch system worked during the disaster.
The New York City Council scheduled a Jan. 10 hearing to probe the city's response to the storm.
O'Daly, meanwhile, remains in the hospital awaiting surgery to insert pins into her ankle, which is fractured in two places, her husband said.