Huge winter storm cuts power to thousands in Northeast, fans fire and disrupts travel

By Geoff Mulvihill, AP
Friday, February 26, 2010

Huge Eastern storm darkens homes, disrupts travel

HAMPTON, N.H. — An unceasing winter storm unleashed multiple dangers across the Northeast on Friday, blasting the coast with hurricane-force winds that fanned a hotel fire, flooding parts of Maine, dropping 2 feet of snow on parts of New York, and cutting power to at least 700,000 homes and businesses.

Power failures were so bad in New Hampshire that even the state Emergency Operations Center was operating on a generator.

The highest wind reported was 91 mph in Portsmouth, N.H. — well above hurricane force of 74 mph. Gusts hit 60 mph or more from New York’s Long Island to Massachusetts.

Public Service of New Hampshire, the state’s largest utility, reported power cut to at least 237,000 homes and businesses and said it would take days before everyone’s lights flickered back on.

New York had more than 220,000 customers without power, mostly in the Hudson Valley north of New York City. Maine reported 130,000, Massachusetts 100,000, Vermont 25,000 and New Jersey 11,000.

Heavy snow closed a 30-mile stretch of Interstate 84 in New York state, and state Police Sgt. Stephen Meehan called travel conditions throughout the mid-Hudson Valley “an absolute disaster.” Tuxedo, N.Y., reported 26 inches of snow, with more coming down.

In New York City, 17 inches of snow had fallen before dawn and more was expected. A man was killed by a falling snow-laden tree branch in Central Park, one of at least three deaths being blamed on the storm.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who had said Thursday that the nation’s largest public school district would stay open, changed his mind. It’s the second snow day of the month there, but only the fourth in six years.

Eric Warner of Brooklyn had to brave it. He drove a truckload of milk, eggs and cheese from Teaneck, N.J., into Manhattan. The roads were terrible, he said, and even carrying the crates was hard.

“When the snow hits you, it feels like little needles,” he said.

It’s not just the schoolchildren who won’t be headed in today.

Airports around the region were dealing with heavy cancellations and telling passengers to check with airlines before trying to get to airports.

New Jersey Transit canceled all buses in the northern half of the state before the morning commute began in earnest, including those that take workers to New York. Government offices in New Jersey were opening two hours late.

A day after airlines canceled hundreds of flights across the Northeast, the real threat was expected to be the strong wind that could create blizzard conditions.

In Hampton, N.H., winds helped spread a fire that started in an unoccupied oceanfront hotel, damaging another six to eight businesses, including a restaurant and a games arcade, fire Capt. David Lang said. No injuries were reported, and no cause had been identified.

One day after parts of northeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Maine dealt with upward of 20 inches of snow and areas of northern New England weathered heavy rains that pushed some rivers toward flood levels, more of the same was forecast throughout Friday.

The worst was expected in southern Maine, where the Presumpscot River crested more than 8 feet above flood stage around 7 a.m. Friday.

Much of the region, particularly Philadelphia and southern New Jersey, only recently finished cleaning up from a pair of storms a few weeks ago.

The latest winter storm was packing wet, heavy snow that could dump a foot or more in some areas and powerful, damaging winds could complicate any cleanup.

The National Weather Service said a potent area of low pressure was expected to linger off Long Island on Friday before drifting slowly north toward southern New England and weakening on Saturday.

In northeastern Pennsylvania on Thursday, emergency crews rescued dozens of Philadelphia-area high school students on a ski trip in Susquehanna County when their buses got stuck on Route 374. A Susquehanna County emergency coordinator said the 70 students and chaperones spent the night at a Red Cross center in Union Dale. No injuries were reported.

Nearly 20 inches of snow blanketed Pocono Summit, in the northeastern part of the state, while farther south, Philadelphia received just a dusting from the first day of the double-barreled storm. A few more inches were expected in the city, which has endured it’s snowiest winter on record, with more than 70 inches.

Seventeen-year-old Andre Lopes of Newark had been hired for the day to help shovel the sidewalks around Newark’s Penn Station. He said the wind-whipped snow that was swirling everywhere when he started shoveling at 1 a.m. had died down a bit but was still falling steadily by 6 a.m.

“You’ve got to have mad clothes to keep warm out here,” he said. “You’ve got to keep bundled up.”

Lopes said he hadn’t been able to take a break, trying to keep a step ahead of the accumulation.

“It’s kind of a fun day,” he said.

Mulvihill reported from Philadelphia. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Chris Carola in Albany, N.Y, Shawn Marsh in Trenton, N.J., Samantha Henry in Newark, N.J., Randy Pennell in Philadelphia, Wilson Ring in Montpellier, Vt., Michael Rubinkam in Allentown, Pa., and Kiley Armstrong and Ula Ilnytzky in New York City.

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