Northeastern U.S. digs itself out from mammoth blizzard

AFP-JIJI, AP

The U.S. Northeast slowly dug out Saturday from a mammoth blizzard that caused at least seven deaths, left some 650,000 homes and businesses without power and choked air, road and rail travel.

The storm in areas still scarred by last October’s Superstorm Sandy dumped nearly a meter of snow across New England, with hurricane-strength gusts creating massive drifts. By late Saturday, the weather system had moved north and over the U.S. border, where it was battering three Canadian provinces.

New York area airports LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy and Newark — which halted all flights during the height of the storm Friday — resumed services, with delays. However, FlightAware.com listed almost 2,000 cancellations around the region, on top of the more than 3,000 flights scrapped Friday.

The blizzard engulfing Boston’s Logan International Airport was so severe that plowing operations were abandoned for several hours overnight Friday. But authorities said arrivals were expected to resume Saturday evening at some point, and departures Sunday.

Meanwhile, Amtrak said its rail link between New York and Boston would remain closed until Sunday, but trains were resuming normal schedules to Washington. A driving ban in Massachusetts, where about 60 cm of snow fell in the blizzard and buried Boston, was lifted Saturday afternoon.

“We have a lot of snow to dispose of and remove, and it will take some time to do that. That is a necessary prerequisite to getting to power lines and getting power restored,” Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy lifted a similar ban but urged people to stay home anyway. “It’s critical right now that residents stay off the roads so that our plows can continue their efforts to clear our streets and highways,” Malloy said.

“This is a record-setting storm. It’s going to take time to dig out of the snow. Stalled or abandoned vehicles will only slow that process. Unless you face an emergency, please stay put.”

In New York City, where around 30 cm of snow accumulated in Central Park, most roads were cleared by Saturday morning. At midday, the sun even came out and people with sleds flocked to parks and took photographs.

“Looks like we dodged a bullet,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

On the third day of the event Organizers of New York Fashion Week welcomed the end of the “white-out.”

“We were in a very white mood . . . it’s a sheer delight!” producer Alexandre de Betak said after the Lacoste show at Lincoln Center. “It’s been three days that we knew it would snow, and we just had to change the planning a bit to get the set up earlier.”

With the wind and heavy snow having snapped power lines, more than 650,000 customers lost electricity, including some 400,000 in Massachusetts, 187,000 in Rhode Island, and 35,000 in Connecticut. But utility companies in Connecticut estimated that up to 30 percent of their customers, or more than 400,000 homes, could have lost power at some stage.

The severity of the disruption was lessened by the storm’s timing, at the start of a weekend, but the almost deserted roads across the region were highly dangerous, with the death toll from the snow standing at seven as of late Saturday. There were also three deaths reported in Canada.

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee cautioned that while the snow had stopped, the danger hadn’t passed: “People need to take this storm seriously, even after it’s over. If you have any kind of heart condition, be careful with the shoveling.”

A car driven by a young woman went out of control on a snowy highway in Poughkeepsie, New York, striking and killing a 74-year-old man who was walking on the shoulder of the road. In Auburn, New Hampshire, a man was killed after losing control of his car and hitting a tree, local officials said. And a Massachusetts boy, 11, died when he and his father were warming up in their car and inhaled carbon monoxide after the snow blocked the exhaust pipe.

Four other storm-related deaths were reported in Connecticut. Meanwhile, drivers sustained minor injuries in a 19-car pileup on Interstate 295 in Falmouth, Maine, caused by poor visibility and slippery road conditions.

The National Weather Service said that travel conditions Saturday continued to be extremely hazardous, “if not impossible.”

The storm came a little over three months after Superstorm Sandy devastated swaths of New York and New Jersey, killing 132 people and causing damage worth $71 billion.