Back-to-back blizzards for the record books help East Coast eclipse seasonal snow totals

By Patrick Walters, AP
Thursday, February 11, 2010

East Coast digs out from storm for record books

PHILADELPHIA — Crews in Maryland worked to rescue motorists stranded on highways in snow drifts up to 8 feet and utility workers scrambled to restore power to more than 100,000 customers a day after a powerful storm disrupted the lives of some 50 million people from the southern plains up through the East Coast.

The storm has been blamed for more than a dozen deaths, mostly in traffic accidents.

Snowbound airports resumed limited operations but many flights were still canceled or delayed. School systems in the path of the storm remained closed for a second day, including in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., although New York City school children headed back to class after only their third snow day in six years.

In Washington, the federal government was closed for a fourth straight day. The nation’s capital joined Philadelphia and Baltimore in logging their snowiest winters in history.

Paul Kocin, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Washington, said the storm compares to some of the greatest ever largely because of its timing. He estimated 50 million people were affected.

“The big difference is that it occurred within a week and a half of three other storms,” Kocin said. “The combination of storms is almost unprecedented — the amount of snow, the amount of impact.”

The latest storm dumped over 19 inches in Baltimore, 10 inches in Washington, D.C. and 16 inches in Philadelphia. About 20 inches fell in central New Jersey and totals ranged from 10 to 16 inches around New York City.

Rescue workers in western Maryland broke through 6-to-8-foot snowdrifts to reach motorists in more than two dozen vehicles stranded overnight on U.S. 340. The highway became impassable after two tractor-trailers jacknifed and blocked the road.

Frederick County Director of Emergency Preparedness Seamus Mooney said by noon Thursday they were down to 12 vehicles with people still in them. He said others walked home or got rides to their destinations.

Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley said none of the stranded drivers appeared to be in physical distress and most chose to stay in their vehicles rather than go to a shelter.

The biggest problem has been getting tow trucks to the scene to remove tractor-trailers blocking the road on the 15-mile stretch between Frederick and the West Virginia state line.

Yue-Chung Siu, 25, got up early to be at work at his family’s bagel store in Philadelphia by 5:30 a.m. Thursday. He said his normal 30 minute commute from Bensalem turned into an hour and 45 minutes because of detours and poorly plowed roads.

He recalled the record-breaking blizzard of January 1996.

“I was a little kid, so I had a lot of fun,” Siu said. “Now, it’s like half-fun, half-hassle.”

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty said it would take another 24 hours to see a lot of normal government operations.

“Then we have a nice, long weekend and the city should be back on its feet by Tuesday,” he told CBS’ “The Early Show.”

Fenty has come under growing criticism for the city’s snow removal efforts and for still not having cleared snow from the previous storm.

He said the city has spent at least double its normal budget on snow removal and expects to ask the federal government for help.

The storm has been blamed for at least a dozen deaths. In addition to traffic accidents, two snowmobilers were killed in Lancaster, Pa., when they struck a vehicle. A New Jersey man was killed when a tree branch hit him as he used his snowblower in his driveway. And another New Jersey man died when snow caused an awning to collapse on top of him.\

A fire station in Maryland was largely destroyed by a three-alarm blaze after the roof collapsed under the weight of snow, rupturing a gas line and sparking the blaze. The station in rural Sykesville was empty at the time of the collapse because firefighters were out on a call. Nobody was injured.

The storm had halted flights throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, but by Thursday morning flights began to arrive at Dulles International Airport in Washington and Reagan National Airport also reopened. Both of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport’s two main runways reopened, but officials warned that flight cancellations would continue because of the storm.

One primary runway was open at Philadelphia International Airport on Thursday morning, and all three New York area airports were up and running, although many flights remained canceled.

Newark Liberty International Airport was packed with passengers stranded by the storm, and others just trying to make needed connections.

Among them was Lorraine Martinez of El Centro, Calif., part of a 49-member church group — mostly senior citizens — who had traveled to Israel to tour historic religious sites.

They arrived in Newark around 4 a.m. Thursday and had expected to depart for San Diego on a Continental Airlines flight about seven hours later. The carrier instead told them they may not be able to get a flight out until Monday.

“We’re still waiting, and their trying to accommodate us, but nothing (so far),” Martinez said, noting that many group members were running short on prescription medications. She also said many could not afford to pay for hotels if they’re forced to stay in the New York-Newark area through the weekend.

As of Wednesday, Baltimore had 72.3 inches so far this winter, the Washington area had 54.9 inches and Philadelphia had 70.3 inches. The previous records for snowiest winters were 62.5 inches in Baltimore in 1995-96; 54.4 inches in Washington in 1898-99; and 65.5 inches in Philadelphia in 1995-96.

Electric crews in New Jersey were working to restore power to more than 40,000 homes and businesses that lost electricity.

More than 70,000 utility customers in Pennsylvania were without power. Some never got it back after the last storm. More than 11,000 customers in Virginia were still in the dark.

In West Virginia, 800 National Guardsmen were helping to clean up after the state’s latest winter storm.

But the news wasn’t all bad. Washington has not had a homicide in a week. Ski areas were doing brisk business, when people could get to them. And private contractors were making money plowing driveways and parking lots.

Associated Press writers Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia; Ula Ilnytzky, Kiley Armstrong and Jennifer Peltz in New York; Brett Zongker, Brian Bakst, Sarah Brumfield and Ann Sanner in Washington; Sarah Karush in Alexandria, Va.; Alex Dominguez in Baltimore; Kathleen Miller in Arlington, Va.; Ben Nuckols in Bel Air, Md.; Dan Nephin in Bentleyville, Pa.; Samantha Henry in Newark; and David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Md., contributed to this report.

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