Mayor Mel Norton said it was the first time in almost three decades that the city declared a state of emergency, which allows the city to ban on-street parking so that plows can clear heaps of snow that have reached levels not seen in recent years.
The state of emergency will be in effect for up to a week in the city's southern peninsula, he said.
The latest storm has left 126 centimetres of snow on the ground, Environment Canada said. Normally, the city has 15 to 20 centimetres of accumulation for this time of year.
Claude Cote, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, said a jet stream just south of Nova Scotia combined with a number of storms developing off the U.S. East Coast have contributed to the inordinate snowfall.
"We just happen to be in that sweet spot," Cote said.
Many of the streets in Saint John were impassable early Tuesday and others were so clogged with snow that emergency vehicles were having a tough time getting around, creating a risk to public safety, city officials said.
People were walking on the street because sidewalks were not plowed.
"It's dangerous," said Devon Duplisea, who was shovelling snow for a property development company.
He parked his car on the street to get the job done but had to drive around the block every time another car approached.
"If one person gets stuck, you're toast."
Duplisea said the city didn't do enough to remove the snow that had built up over the past week.
"They had nighttime to get dump trucks to pull away this snow, and it seems like we're left to fend for ourselves."
Norton defended efforts by city crews, saying they have been working 16-hour days to get rid of the snow.
"You wouldn't know it looking at the amount of snow, but in the last 48 hours or so we've removed about a thousand dump truckloads just from this area of the city," Norton said.
"Mother Nature, as she can sometimes do, has gotten the best of the community on this one."
Environment Canada said a low-pressure system tracked northeastward over the Maritimes late Monday, bringing heavy snow, strong northeast winds and wind-chill values near -30 C.
Cote said another system is on the way for Thursday night into Friday that could bring 15 to 25 more centimetres of snow in Saint John.
Other areas across the Maritimes weren't spared, as road closures, school cancellations and flight delays were reported across the region.
The storm was expected to make its way to Newfoundland and Labrador, bringing high winds and heavy snow to some areas.
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