U.S. blizzard kills two, leaves thousands without power

BOSTON/NEW YORK Sat Feb 9, 2013 11:35pm IST

1 of 4. Cars are seen partially covered by snow after the passing of a winter storm in Jersey City, New Jersey, February 9, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Eduardo Munoz

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BOSTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - A record-breaking blizzard packing hurricane-force winds pummeled the northeastern United States on Saturday, causing at least two storm-related deaths, cutting power to 700,000 homes and businesses and shutting down travel.

The mammoth storm that stretched from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic coast dumped more than 3 feet (90 cm) of snow across the Northeast, the National Weather Service said. Blizzard and flood warnings were in effect for the coast.

In Stratford, Connecticut, Mayor John Harkins said he had never seen such a heavy snowfall, with rates of 6 inches (12.5 cm) an hour at times overnight, he told local WTNH television.

"Even the plows are getting stuck," Harkins said.

The storm concentrated its fury on Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, with the top snowfall 38 inches (95 cm) in Milford, Connecticut.

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee banned all travel on roads in order to aid snow plow crews. He told CNN that National Guard troops were rescuing stranded motorists, especially at uncleared on-ramps.

The mammoth storm dumped 29.3 inches (73.2 cm) of snow on Portland, Maine, breaking a 1979 record, and the weather service said there is more on the way.

Police in New York's Suffolk County turned to snowmobiles in some cases to rescue hundreds of motorists stuck overnight on the Long Island Expressway, said police spokesman Rich Glanzer. Some spent the night in their cars.

In Poughkeepsie, New York, a man in his 70s was killed when a driver lost control of her car and hit him, media reported. An 80-year-old woman clearing her driveway in Prospect, Rhode Island, died on Friday when she was struck by a hit-and-run driver, a spokesman for state emergency services said.

A 30-year-old motorist in Auburn, New Hampshire, died when his car went off the road, but the man's health, and not the weather, might have been a factor in the accident, state authorities said.

POWER LINES DOWN

Utility companies reported about 700,000 customers without electricity across Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut as the wet, heavy snow brought down tree branches and power lines.

The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts, lost power and shut down automatically late on Friday, but there was no threat to the public, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.

Almost 2,000 flights were canceled on Saturday, according to FlightAware, which tracks airline delays. Boston's Logan International Airport and Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, were shut down.

The National Weather Service said the storm was expected to taper off from West to East into the afternoon. Snowfall is forecast to total from 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 cm) in eastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Peter Judge, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said coastal communities were being evacuated from Salisbury to Hull because of feared flooding from a high tide combined with a storm surge.

Offshore waves were expected to reach 30 feet (9 m), he said.

The heavy snowfall was backed by winds that gusted to 83 miles an hour (133 km an hour) at Cuttyhunk, New York, and brought down trees across the region, the weather service said.

The governors of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and Maine declared a state of emergency before the storm. The U.S. Postal Service suspended mail delivery in the six New England states.

Amtrak suspended rail service between New York, Boston and points north on Friday afternoon.

The town of Gorham, Maine, was buried under 33 inches (82.5 cm) of snow, and Philip Gagnon, chairman of the town council, said many roads would not be cleared until late Sunday or Monday.

"We've had our crews out since yesterday morning," he said. "It's going to probably take some time because they can only do so much before we can rest them," he said.

Fashion Week in New York went on unfazed as crowds of people arrived to watch the morning's shows by Ruffian and LaCoste.

Andrea Daney said she was trying to be discreet as she changed from snow boots to high-heeled crushed blue velvet ankle boots.

"I'm calling it the shoe storm of the century," said Daney, a digital marketing senior manager for LaCoste. "You have to make adjustments to your outfit."

(Additional reporting by Scott Malone in Boston, Kevin Gray in Miami, Ellen Wulfhorst in New York, Ian Simpson in Washington, Jason McLure in Maine, and Dan Burns in Connecticut; Editing by Vicki Allen and Gunna Dickson)

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