East Coast blizzard responsible for dozens of deaths - East Valley Tribune: News

East Coast blizzard responsible for dozens of deaths

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Posted: Tuesday, February 18, 2003 8:05 am | Updated: 1:18 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Snowplow crews struggled to clear roads and airport runways in the Northeast for millions of commuters and other travelers Tuesday after one of the worst storms in decades buried in the region in 2 to 4 feet of snow.

Schools were closed from West Virginia to Connecticut, although for some it already was a school vacation week. At least 37 deaths had been blamed on the storm since it charged out of the Plains during the weekend, and more than 250,000 homes and businesses lost power.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney told all nonessential state workers to stay home Tuesday. Officials in Washington ordered federal offices to remain closed Tuesday.

"It's no man's land out there," said Paul McIntyre, state highway supervisor for Maryland's mountainous Garrett County, which received 49 inches of snow, on top of 120 inches it already had from previous storms. "It looks more like Siberia than Maryland."

Snowdrifts were piled high from the Ohio Valley to New England, mudslides and floods wreaked havoc in the southern Appalachians, and layers of ice snapped trees and power lines.

"All the trees are down," Mark Caudill, 21, said in Lexington, Ky. "It looks like an avalanche just came through here and destroyed everything."

For the region as a whole, it was the worst snowstorm since the blizzard of 1996, when at least 80 deaths were blamed on the weather. Boston picked up a record 27.5 inches, the largest accumulation since record-keeping started in 1892, but without the heavy drifting and coastal flooding of the devastating Blizzard of '78. Boston expected a couple of more inches Tuesday.

Washington Dulles International Airport received 24.2 inches, and New York City's Central Park recorded 19.8 inches - its fourth heaviest snowfall on record.

Elsewhere, 37 inches fell in West Virginia's Berkeley County, the National Weather Service said. The Seven Springs ski resort area in western Pennsylvania had 40 inches.

Berkeley Springs, W.Va., asked for National Guard help in digging people out.

"Our concern is not only moving the snow as quickly as possible for the welfare of our citizens, but the real fear of flooding that a melt of this magnitude will bring," said Berkeley Springs Mayor Susan Webster.

Southern West Virginia already had flooding from heavy rain delivered by the same storm system. Eastern Kentucky and parts of Tennessee also had floods during the weekend.

More flooding is possible from melting snow and rain that is expected later in the week, meteorologists said.

Airports serving Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston were largely shut down Monday or had nearly total cancellations, stranding thousands of passengers trying to leave and get into the region.

Philadelphia International resumed operations Tuesday but spokesman Mark Pesce said about 35 percent of the flights would be canceled. Flights slowly resumed at New York's LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark airports, and Boston's Logan had one runway open. The Washington area's National, Dulles and Baltimore-Washington had limited service.

About 60 Amtrak passengers headed from Chicago to Washington had to spend the night at a hotel in Huntington, W.Va., after CSX Transportation closed tracks between Cincinnati and Washington because of falling trees and flooding, said spokesman Dan Stessel.

Plows built piles of snow two stories high along some streets, including Fifth Avenue near the Saks department store in midtown Manhattan, where tourists took pictures of each other standing on the gigantic mounds of snow.

"It's great," said John Gosal, a Vancouver, B.C., native who works as a diplomat at the United Nations. "Instead of worrying about Iraq, it's nice to have a snow day."

An estimated 100,000 customers lost power in West Virginia, with 20,000 in the Carolinas, 62,000 in Ohio, 96,000 in Kentucky and 6,000 in Virginia.

West Virginia utility officials said it might be Friday before all power is restored.

Weather-related deaths included two in Illinois, one in Nebraska, five in Pennsylvania, seven in West Virginia, six in Missouri, one in Ohio, two in Virginia, four in Maryland, one in New Jersey, one in Connecticut, and four in Iowa.

New York City had two deaths, including a woman who died after slipping and falling into a snow bank, where she apparently lay for about 13 hours before being found.

Near Pulaski, Tenn., the body of a 7-year-old girl was found Tuesday inside a car that was swept off a bridge by high water. Searchers continued looking for her 12-year-old brother. The driver, the children's aunt, was saved after being swept downstream by the current.

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