NEW YORK (Reuters) - An unseasonably early-winter storm brought snow, rain and dangerous winds to the U.S. Northeast, plunging many residents of the most populous region of the country back into darkness just as they were recovering from Superstorm Sandy.
The storm iced roads and hit transit systems, setting the stage for a difficult Thursday morning commute and bringing fresh misery to those whose lives had been disrupted by the massive storm that smashed ashore on October 29 with historic flooding.
Sandy's death toll in the United States and Canada reached 121 after New York authorities on Wednesday reported another death linked to the storm, in the hard-hit coastal neighborhood of Rockaway that bore the brunt of a storm surge.
More than 60,000 homes and businesses in a band stretching from the Carolinas to New York lost power, joining the more than 640,000 customers that remained in the dark after one of the biggest and costliest storms ever to hit the United States.
Freezing temperatures were a fresh worry for residents left without power. New York distributed space heaters and blankets to residents without heat or power and opened shelters to those in need of a warm place to sleep.
After enduring a week without electricity or running water in her Mendham, New Jersey, home, Kimberly Gavagan said she and her family are now staying with friends that have power.
"The idea of getting several inches of snow on top of this is unbearable," Gavagan said. "We are going to be shoveling snow and going into a cold house."
The low-pressure weather system coming from the south brought wind gusts up to 60 miles per hour (97 kph) and dropped what was expect to be 3 inches to 5 inches (8-13 cm) of snow on New York City, with up to twice that much hitting northern suburbs, the National Weather Service said.
But local utilities warned that winds and heavy, wet snow, which threatened to down trees and power lines, had hindered their efforts to restore power.
"I could see us actually moving backwards, and people who had regained power losing power again," warned New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
U.S. President Barack Obama spoke with the governors of New York and New Jersey by telephone on Wednesday, with the discussions focused on fuel shortages in the storm-hit region and what to do about the thousands whose homes were destroyed, according to a White House official.
EVACUATIONS AND DISRUPTIONS
New York and New Jersey evacuated the most vulnerable coastal areas ahead of the storm, which was forecast to bring a high tide about 2 feet (60 cm) above normal by early Thursday.
New York City officials urged residents whose homes have been flooded by Sandy to relocate to the homes of friends or family members or to go to city shelters.
But some in the region were unwilling or unable to leave their homes. That included Christine Jones, a 73-year-old resident of coastal Far Rockaway in the borough of Queens who said that she and many of her neighbors planned to stay in their cold, dark apartments.
"They're scared they're going to be robbed," said Jones, whose evacuation options were limited since her 1999 Buick was flooded by Sandy's storm surge. "The teen-age boys ... they try to break in."
Commuter bus and train services had been disrupted by the storm, with the Long Island Rail Road briefly shutting down all operations to the city's eastern suburbs on Wednesday night.
All of the region's major airports experienced canceled flights and delays on Wednesday due to the storm, and gasoline remained in short supply, though four companies told the United States they intended to take advantage of a rare waiver allowing them to use foreign-flagged ships to transport oil products to the storm-hit region.
Across the region, residents waited for a return of power and warmth.
Diane Reinhardt, a 64-year-old retired teacher, said she had traveled from her home in Brooklyn to the south shore of Long Island to check on her 93-year-old mother, whose home has been without power since Sandy hit more than a week ago.
"They're just at wit's end," Reinhardt said of her mother and brother. "They feel like they're never going to get power back and it's never going to get warm again."
(Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert in Washington; Writing by Scott Malone; editing by Philip Barbara)
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