Massive Power Outages as Blizzard Turns Deadly

8:14 PM, Feb 9, 2013   |    comments
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By: Gary Strauss, Doyle Rice and Kevin McCoy

A deadly blizzard of historic proportions pounded the Northeast, already bringing more than 3 feet of snow to some areas and cutting power to 650,000 homes and businesses.

More than 3 feet had fallen on central Connecticut by Saturday afternoon, and areas of southeastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire notched 2 feet or more of snow - as the storm began to wane.

The storm is blamed for at least seven deaths, three in Canada and four in the USA. A 74-year-old man died after being struck by a car in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; the driver said she lost control in the snowy conditions, police said. A second New Yorker, 23, died when a tractor he was using to plow his driveway went off the edge of the road. A woman in her 80s was struck and killed by a hit-run driver Friday night in Connecticut, and in Boston an 11-year-old boy died when he was overcome by carbon monoxide in a running car while his father dug it out of a snow bank.

Hurricane-force winds and history-making snowfalls combined to spread misery from New Jersey to Maine. Winds gusted to 76 mph at Boston's Logan airport and 84 mph in Cuttyhunk, Mass. The storm piled the most snow on Hamden, Conn. -- 40 inches -- and was the fifth largest in Boston history, with 24.9 inches of snow recorded there.

The 31.9 inches in Portland, Maine, is the most ever recorded there from a single snowstorm; the storm was the second biggest in Harford, Conn. (22.8 inches) and Concord, N.H. (24 inches), and third biggest in Worcester (28.7 inches).

Power company National Grid said 350,000 of its customers lost power in southern Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. Some of them were restored, but by Saturday afternoon, 131,000 customers in Massachusetts and 176,000 in Rhode Island were still without power. Thousands more outages were reported in New York, Maine and Connecticut.

More than 2,000 crews, including National Grid personnel and crews from 26 states and two Canadian provinces were responding to more than 3,400 reports of downed wires, the company said.

More than 6,300 flights in North America have been canceled through 11 a.m. Saturday, according to flight-tracking service FlightStats.

In the New York City area, John F. Kennedy Airport, LaGuardia Airport and Newark Airport were open as of 7 a.m. Saturday, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Some commercial flights were expected to resume as early as 9 a.m., but carriers have canceled many flights. Travelers were urged to call ahead and check with their carriers for specific flight information.

Acela train express service between New York City and Boston remained shut down Saturday, Amtrak reported.

Southbound Northeast Regional service from Boston was expected to resume on a limited schedule at 11:40 a.m. Northbound Northeast Regional service from Penn Station in New York City was also expected to resume limited service as of 11:30 a.m., Amtrak reported.

While the blizzard, dubbed "Nemo" by the Weather Channel, the blizzard has ended in New York City, heavy snow and strong wind gusts are expected to continue across much of New England through midday, before tapering off from west to east through the afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.

The snowfall ended and all blizzard warnings expired by 4 p.m. everywhere except far northeast Maine, where snow is expected to continue until this evening. Temperatures will hover in the teens in northern New England and in the 20s in southern New England today, and rise into the 30s Sunday, according to AccuWeather.

New York City's Central Park, where the official snowfall totaled 11.4 inches, filled with bundled-up men, women and children. Some went with sleds, some with skis, some strolled casually, and some, like Gauri Pradhan of Manhattan, took photos of the snow-covered scenery.

"It's pretty," Pradhan said.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Saturday morning the city "certainly avoided the worst of it."

Service on the Metro-North commuter rail lines between New York City and the northern suburbs was scheduled to resume at 11 a.m., New York State's Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a news briefing Saturday morning. But in Long Island's Suffolk and Nassau counties, the state's hardest-hit areas, about 200 motorists were stranded with their vehicles, and even firetrucks became stuck.

Cuomo urged Long Island motorists to stay off the roads and allow plows and emergency workers to clear the snow.

"You have an historic amount of snowfall. It does not go away in a matter of minutes," he said. "Today is not a day for people to be leaving the house unless they have urgent, urgent business."

Additional snowplows from adjacent Nassau County and from New York City were en route to help eastern Long Island dig out, Cuomo said. New York was also sending plows, personnel and other storm-response aid to Connecticut and Massachusetts, he said, explaining that "this state had (storm-related) consequences, but nothing like out neighboring states."

Conn. Gov. Dannel Malloy ordered all roads closed statewide early Saturday.

"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," said Malloy. "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."

The storm stranded hundreds of motorists on highways and roads across Suffolk County on Eastern Long Island.

"We're taxed. We're still trying to rescue people in a number of places and get them home," said a spokesman for the Suffolk County Police Department Saturday morning. "We have the National Guard and the State Police helping us."

The Long Island Expressway remained closed to all but emergency and utility vehicles.

"It's very hard to get on an entrance or exit ramp right now. They're under several feet of snow," the police spokesman said.

The snow also caused a 19-car, four-hour pileup on I-295 near Cumberland, Maine. Several people had minor injuries, police said. In Vermont, the storm was being blamed for a series of crashes on I-89 in Bolton and South Burlington. Two people were taken to the hospital with minor injuries.

Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York and Massachusetts have declared states of emergencies.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said in a Saturday afternoon news conference he banned traffic Friday afternoon, before the storm hit, in contrast to the state's last such ban in the blizzard of 1978.

"We tried to take experiences from the blizzard of 1978, when the travel ban was issued after the storm had already hit," Patrick said.

This time, while there were some "knuckleheads" who went out anyway and a few dozen got stuck, "we think we were well served by that" early travel ban, he said.

The ban was lifted for some counties at 1 p.m. and will be lifted across the state by 4 p.m., according the Massachusetts State Police.

Utility officials warned customers to prepare for power outages lasting several days. New England and New York are expected to take the hardest hit, but others around the country could feel the ripple effect from canceled flights and trains and snarled traffic along the Eastern Seaboard, parts which are still reeling from the fallout of October's Superstorm Sandy.

In Somerville, Mass., Amsterdam Falafelshop Boston is one of the only business to open on time today at 11 a.m., after staying open til its regular closing time at midnight Friday.

"The way I see small business is that we're providing a service to the local community," owner Matt D'Alessio, 29, said as he shoveled the knee-high snow and salted the sidewalk outside his restaurant. "We remained open because people came to our shop," buying multiple sandwiches for friends at home, D'Alessio said.

The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth experienced an automatic shutdown at around 9:15 p.m. Friday after losing off-site power. Spokesman Neil Sheehan says that the reactor shut down without any problems and that backup generators are powering plant equipment.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says there's no threat to public safety.

Contributing: Melanie Eversley, Ben Mutzabaugh, Stephanie Haven; Alesha Williams, Laura Petrecca, Natalie DiBlasio, TIm Mullaney; Associated Press


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