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'We Were Very Prepared:' NYC Sanitation Commissioner Defends Storm Response

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The severity of the season's first snowstorm caught many people off guard Thursday, causing commuter chaos across the area.

Early Friday morning, drivers woke up in their cars along the Major Deegan Expressway after being stuck behind the wheel overnight.

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"Stuck for nine hours, coming from downtown – from West Side Highway, 19th Street," driver John Dinoia told CBS2 around 3 a.m.

For many on the West Side of Manhattan, the gridlock Thursday night was beyond their wildest nightmares.

"Six hours," one woman said. "Tired and hungry."

Web Extra: NYC Sanitation Commissioner Garcia Defends Storm Response 

It took CBS2's Mobile 2 unit five hours to get from West 57th Street up the West Side Highway and Henry Hudson Parkway to the 158th Street exit, and we had plenty of company.

"Five hours getting home from the Bronx," said Lenora Hannah, of Hamilton Heights. "It was a parking lot, a legit parking lot."

Accidents on the George Washington Bridge were part of the problem. One on the eastbound upper level involved several cars and tractor-trailers. No injuries were reported, but the impact created a severe domino effect.

Watch: CBS2's Lonnie Quinn Breaks Down What Happened 

Back in the city, heavy snow downed trees, blocking some streets. Fed up drivers wanted to know where the plows were.

"I never heard a plow, I never saw any pre-treat. It was literately a sheet of ice," Shannon Richards, of Hamilton Heights, said. "The roads were poorly prepared for what we experienced."

Early Friday morning, Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia told CBS2, "We were very prepared."

"The challenge we had was cascading impact from what happened on the GWB," she added. "I think it actually speaks how critical that piece of infrastructure is because one it took the major arteries when people tried to go around."

In an extended interview later in the morning, Garcia continued to defend the response, saying, "I think the real challenge here - it was going to be a difficult storm, it was at rush hour, it was very heavy, but what really hampered us is when the GWB closed down."

"We had been doing very well up until that moment, we had been making good progress in terms of getting salt down across the city. I'd actually noted that the Bronx was ahead of the other boroughs, and then everything came to a complete halt and spreaders literally did not move four hours," she continued.

More: Parents Endure Worried Night As Storm Delays Children's Return Home

City Comptroller Scott Stringer is demanding answers from the sanitation department.

"In a city that routinely experiences heavy snowfalls each year, there is no reason that six inches of snow should have caused problems as severe as school buses taking more than 10 hours to bring kids home," he said in a statement Friday. "New Yorkers need a full and complete explanation of what went wrong and how DSNY intends to prevent this from happening again."

As for public transit and problems with MTA buses, a spokesperson told CBS2, "Our buses were held hostage to massive gridlock citywide. Our bus operators and front-line employees fought through epic traffic and kept the subways moving - and we're grateful for their dedication during a tremendously difficult commute."

New York City public schools are open Friday, but the buses were running with some delays. All field-trips requiring yellow buses have been canceled, along with after-school programs, adult education, YABC programs and PSAL activities.

Stick with for the latest commuter alerts, school closings and weather conditions.

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