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18 dead as massive blizzard hits US east coast

Published 24/01/2016

Parked cars are covered by the snow in Washington (AP)
Parked cars are covered by the snow in Washington (AP)

Millions of Americans were preparing to dig themselves out after a mammoth blizzard with hurricane-force winds and record-setting snowfall left at least 18 people dead and brought much of the US East Coast to an icy standstill.

Travel bans barring non emergency vehicles from the roads of New York City and Baltimore were expected to be lifted and mass transit systems that had been partially suspended during the storm were scheduled to run again.

But even as United Airlines said a limited service might begin later Sunday in New York City, airports in the Washington D C area were likely to remain closed and other airlines started to cut Monday services in addition to the 7,000 already-cancelled weekend flights.

The massive snowstorm brought both the nation's capital and its largest city to a stop, dumping as much as 3ft (90cm) of snow and stranding tens of thousands of travellers. At least 18 deaths were blamed on the weather, resulting from car crashes, shovelling snow and hypothermia.

The snow dropped 26.8ins (68.1cm) in Central Park, the second-most recorded since 1869. The snowfall narrowly missed tying the previous record of 26.9 ins (68.3 cm) set in February 2006. The snow finally stopped falling in New York City late on Saturday, though authorities insisted people stay indoors and off the streets as crews ploughed deserted roads and police set up checkpoints to catch violators.

The storm dumped snow from the Gulf Coast to New England, with areas of Washington surpassing 30ins (76.2cm). The heaviest unofficial report was in a rural area of West Virginia, not far from Harpers Ferry, with 40ins (101.6cm).

"This is going to be one of those generational events, where your parents talk about how bad it was," Ryan Maue, a meteorologist for WeatherBell Analytics, said from Tallahassee, Florida, which also got some flakes.

The usually bustling New York City looked more like a ghost town. With Broadway shows dark, thin crowds shuffled through a different kind of Great White Way, the nickname for a section of the theatre district. And Bruce Springsteen cancelled Sunday's scheduled show at Madison Square Garden.

James Burns, 25, a publishing agent from London living in New York said: "The authorities are saying stay at home and do not leave unless it's life or death - it's really unbelievable.

"I walked to the subway after work last night, thinking the media in the States are bonkers, there's not going to be a snow storm let alone a foot of snow dumped overnight.

"By the time I had got off the train 15 minutes later it was a winter wonderland and by the time I woke up today there was six inches of snow outside. Looking out of my window 24 hours later there is at least 17 inches.

"People in my neighbourhood are pulling together, the public departments have been awesome at keeping the roads and sidewalks as clear as possible."

In Washington, monuments that would typically be busy with tourists stood empty. All mass transit in the capital was to be shut down through Sunday.

Throughout the region, drivers skidded off snowy, icy roads in accidents that killed several people Friday and Saturday. Those killed included a 4-year-old boy in North Carolina; a Kentucky transportation worker who was ploughing roads; and a woman whose car plunged down a 300ft (91m) embankment in Tennessee. Three people died while shovelling snow in Queens and Staten Island.

An Ohio teenager sledding behind an all-terrain vehicle was hit by a truck and killed, and two people died of hypothermia in south-west Virginia. In North Carolina, a man whose car had veered off an icy-covered road was arrested on charges of killing a motorist who stopped to help.

In Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, drivers were marooned for hours in snow-choked roads.

Roofs collapsed on a historic theatre in Virginia and a horse barn in Maryland, while seaside towns in New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland grappled with flooding.

The snow was whipped into a maelstrom by winds that reached 75 mph (120 kph) at Dewey Beach, Delaware, and Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, the weather service said. From Virginia to New York, sustained winds topped 30 mph (48 kph) and gusted to around 50 mph (80 kph). And if that weren't enough, the storm also had bursts of thunder and lightning.

Later New York's governor Andrew Cuomo said a travel ban instituted during a massive snowstorm had been lifted.

The travel ban covered all state and local roads in New York City, the Long Island Expressway and Northern State Parkway and the Port Authority's Hudson River crossings.

The National Weather Service said the 26.6ins of snow that fell in Central Park on Saturday is a one-day record for New York City.

The overall accumulation - 26.8ins - is the second-most for a single storm in city history.

Meteorologist Faye Barthold said all but two-tenths of an inch of the city's accumulation fell on Saturday, surpassing the previous one-day mark of 24.1 inches on February 12, 2006.

Officials say the total of 26.8 ins that fell in Central Park during the storm is the second-most since officials began keeping snowfall records in 1869. That narrowly misses tying the previous record of 26.9 inches from February 2006.

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