US begins the big dig-out after epic snow

2013-02-10 16:41
People attempt to push a stuck vehicle in the Back Bay neighbourhood following a powerful blizzard in Boston, Massachusetts. (Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP)

People attempt to push a stuck vehicle in the Back Bay neighbourhood following a powerful blizzard in Boston, Massachusetts. (Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP)

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Providence - Emergency crews and residents struggled to clear roadways and side walks from a storm that rampaged through the country's northeast, dumping up to 1m of snow and bringing howling winds that knocked out power to hundreds of thousands.

Municipal workers from New York to Boston laboured through the night on Saturday in snow-bound communities, where some motorists had to be rescued after spending hours stuck in wet, heavy snow. Meanwhile, utilities in some hard-hit New England states predicted that Friday's storm could leave some customers in the dark at least until Monday.

"We've never seen anything like this," said Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone of Long Island, which got more than 500cm of snow.

About 345 000 homes and businesses remained without power on Sunday morning, down from a total of about 650 000. Some school districts announced they'd be closed on Monday, complicating parents' back to work schedules but giving kids another day for frolicking.

At least five deaths in the US were blamed on the snowstorm, including an 11-year-old boy in Boston who was overcome by carbon monoxide as he sat in a running car to keep warm while his father shovelled on Saturday morning. That death and the illnesses of several others exposed to carbon monoxide set off a flurry of safety warnings from public officials. Three other people died in Canada.

Roads across the Northeast were impassable and cars were entombed by snow drifts on Saturday. Some people found the snow packed so high against their homes they couldn't get their doors open.

"It's like lifting cement. They say it's 60cm, but I think it's more like 90cm," said Michael Levesque.

In Providence, where the drifts were 1.5m high and telephone lines encrusted with ice and snow drooped under the weight, Jason Harrison laboured for nearly three hours to clear his blocked driveway and front walk and still had more work to do.

Rhode Island Governor 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 shovelling."

130km/h

Blowing with hurricane-force winds of more than 130km/h in places, the storm hit hard along the heavily populated Interstate 95 corridor between New York City and Maine.

Still, the storm was not as bad as some of the forecasts led many to fear, and not as dire as the Blizzard of '78, used by long-time New Englanders as the benchmark by which all other winter storms are measured.

In New York, where Central Park recorded 30cm, not even enough to make the Top 10 list, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city "dodged a bullet" and its streets were "in great shape." The three major airports - LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark - were up and running by late morning after shutting down the evening before.

Most of the power outages were in Massachusetts, where at its peak more than 400 000 homes and businesses were left in the dark. In Rhode Island, a high of around 180 000 customers lost power, or about one-third of the state.

Connecticut crews had slowly whittled down the outage total from a high of about 38 000 to about 25 000 on Sunday, and power was restored to nearly all of the more than 15 000 in Maine and New Hampshire who were left without lights after the storm hit.

Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island imposed travel bans until 16:00 to keep cars off the road and let plows do their work, and the National Guard helped clear highways in Connecticut, where more than 240 car accidents were reported. The Guardsmen rescued about 90 motorists, including a few who had hypothermia and were taken to hospitals.

On Long Island, hundreds of drivers spent a cold and scary night stuck on the highways. Even snowploughs got bogged down or were blocked by stuck cars, so emergency workers used snowmobiles to try to reach motorists, many of whom were still waiting to be rescued hours after the snow had stopped.

Around the New York metropolitan area, many victims of Superstorm Sandy were mercifully spared another round of flooding, property damage and power failures.

"I was very lucky and I never even lost power," said Susan Kelly of Bayville. "We were dry as anything. My new roof was fantastic. Other than digging out, this storm was a nice storm." As for the shovelling, "I got two hours of exercise."

At New York's Fashion Week, women tottered on 10cm heels through the snow to get to the tents to see designers' newest collections.

Across much of New England, streets were empty of cars and dotted instead with children who had never seen so much snow and were jumping into snow banks and making forts. Snow was waist-high in the streets of Boston. Ploughs made some thoroughfares passable but piled even more snow on cars parked on the city's narrow streets.

Boston's Logan Airport resumed operations late on Saturday night.

- AP

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