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U.S. storm brings death, travel chaos

AFP-JIJI, AP

The U.S. Northeast was battered by heavy snow and strong winds Thursday as a mighty storm carved a violent arc across several states, killing more than a dozen people and snarling holiday travel.

More than 3,000 flights have been canceled since Christmas Day, including 746 Thursday as the storm wreaked havoc from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes before heading northeast.

In New York City, high winds caused major air traffic delays: 186 flights were canceled outright at the area’s three major airports — Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark.

“We have opened the emergency operation center to coordinate response efforts using all state and local resources,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged residents who are still without power two months after deadly Superstorm Sandy slammed into the city to seek refuge in emergency shelters.

On New York’s Long Island, a Southwest Airlines jet bound for Tampa, Florida, veered off a taxiway and got stuck in mud Thursday morning. Officials said there were no injuries to the 129 passengers and five crew members. Though the area received heavy rain overnight, Southwest spokesman Paul Flanigan said it wasn’t clear whether that played a role.

In Pittsburgh, a flight that landed safely during the storm Wednesday night got stuck in snow on the tarmac for about two hours. The American Airlines flight arrived between 8 and 9 p.m., but then ran over a snow patch and got stuck.

Although the storm was winding down late Thursday, a warning for heavy snow remained in effect overnight in New Hampshire and western Maine, the National Weather Service said.

The storm was departing the region, the government forecasters said, “but not before dumping another 6 to 8 inches (15-20 cm) of snow over portions of Maine.”

So far, the heaviest snowfall has been recorded in northern New York, with 40 cm on the ground in the town of Edwards, near the border with Canada.

A new storm was already looming, forecast to hit portions of New England, the mid-Atlantic, and the Ohio valley in the last weekend of 2012.

In Canada, dozens of planes were grounded in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal due to the wintry weather, with 45 cm of snow expected in the southern part of Quebec Province.

Earlier in the week, nearly three dozen tornadoes were reported in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.

More than 200,000 people lost power in Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas. Entergy, the regional utility company, warned Wednesday that it could take crews up to a week to restore electricity in all areas.

The governors of both Mississippi and Alabama have declared states of emergency.

In Indiana, authorities dispatched nearly 600 trucks to clear highways and smaller state roads, and advised travelers to stay home if possible.

Deaths from wind-toppled trees were reported in Texas and Louisiana, but car crashes caused most weather-related fatalities. Two people were killed in Kentucky crashes, a New York man was killed after his pickup truck skidded on an icy road in northwest Pennsylvania, and an Ohio teenager died after losing control of her car and smashing into an oncoming snowplow.

The storms have claimed at least 13 lives — three in Arkansas, two each in Oklahoma, Indiana and Virginia, and one each in Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.