Blizzard hammering East Coast; 12 deaths |

Blizzard hammering East Coast; 12 deaths

AP PhotoA pedestrian walks past a discarded umbrella covered in snow on the Lower East Side of Manhattan Wednesday.

ALBANY, N.Y. ” Sleet stung the faces of pedestrians and snow and ice coated windshields Wednesday as the Valentine’s Day blizzard shut down schools and air travel and turned streets and highways into dangerous skating rinks.

Nearly 300,000 homes and businesses had lost electrical service in the cold weather. At least 12 deaths were blamed on the huge storm system.

Thousands of schools and some businesses were closed in states from Maine to Kentucky, some for a second day, and in Washington the federal government decided to open offices two hours late.

The slippery streets and sidewalks created a challenge for florists trying to deliver Valentine’s Day flowers.

“People have to understand, we can’t do it if it gets really bad. Other than that, we’ll kill ourselves to get it delivered,” said florist Dan Filer, whose shop in the Cleveland area was double-wrapping arrangements to protect them from the cold.

At Schenectady, N.Y., only one of Zalondek Veronica Floral’s four delivery people got to work on time. Two got stuck, and “one girl, her Daddy got her and he said ‘I forbid you to go out,'” said owner Deborah Zalondek.

In some parts of Ohio, business closings included florists and gift shops that had been counting on a busy Valentine’s Day.

The National Weather Service issued blizzard warnings for parts of New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine, where as much as 2 feet of snow was possible.

Maine Gov. John Baldacci declared a state of emergency to ensure deliveries of heating oil, and New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer activated the National Guard to help with snow emergencies.

“We’re geared up to handle snow. Barring a four-foot snow we’re ready for it,” said Dana Wardwell, director of public works in Bangor, Maine.

Up to 10 inches had fallen by early afternoon in parts of upstate New York, and the weather service said some places could receive as much as 3 feet.

However, the brunt of the storm bypassed towns near the east end of Lake Ontario that had been buried by 10 feet and more of lake-effect snow over the past week.

In the Midwest, Springfield, Ill., measured 16 inches, and stiff wind piled the snow into drifts as high as 9 feet in parts of Indiana.

Many Illinois counties closed some rural roads until the snow stopped drifting. Some Ohio counties closed roads to all but emergency workers Wednesday and warned that anyone else on the roads could be arrested.

“We have a lot of trucks parked pretty much everywhere, clogging up the whole parking lot,” said sales clerk Nathan Robinson at the Auburn Travel Center truck stop about 10 miles south of Springfield, Ill., off Interstate 55.

Hundreds of flights were canceled at Albany, Boston, New York City, Washington, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Indianapolis.

Airport crews in Ohio worked nonstop to keep up with falling, drifting snow on runways. “They have to go back and start over and go back and start over,” said Pat Smith, spokeswoman for Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.

About 100 people spent the night at the Cincinnati airport because their connecting flights did not arrive, and dozens of people stood in line Wednesday waiting to reschedule departures at the Delta counter in Washington’s Reagan National airport.

“Everybody’s in the same predicament,” Linda Gaudette of Falls Church, Va., said at Reagan National. “They can’t do anything about the weather.”

Amtrak reported up to one-hour delays between Boston and Washington and regional commuter railroads also had delays.

National Guard armories and other facilities were opened in Indiana as shelters for stalled travelers and local residents who lacked heat. Three to five busloads of residents were taken to a shelter at Jennings County High School in southern Indiana, the state homeland security agency said.

At least 108,000 customers were without power across Ohio, and more than 14,000 were blacked out in northern Kentucky. Maryland’s four biggest utilities reported about 120,000 customers without power statewide, 36,000 customers were blacked out in New Jersey, about 18,000 lost service on New York state’s Long Island, and about 3,000 customers remained without power in Indiana.

However, the storm was good news for the ski industry in New England, where snow has been sparse this winter.

“This is what we’ve all been waiting for,” said JJ Toland, a spokesman for the Sugarbush resort in Warren, Vt. “We’ve recorded a foot so far and it’s still snowing sideways. It’s gorgeous.”

The huge weather system’s snow and ice had been blamed for three deaths in Nebraska; two each in Indiana, New Jersey and Delaware; and one each in Missouri and Ohio, and a tornado on the southern side of the huge weather system killed one person in Louisiana.

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