New England bears brunt of massive winter storm
Associated Press Writer
HAMPTON, N.H. – A strong-willed winter storm blasted the Northeast on Friday, unleashing hurricane-force winds that fanned a New Hampshire hotel fire, flooding parts of Maine, dropping more than 2 feet of snow on areas of New York, and cutting power to more than 800,000 homes and businesses.
Schools were canceled as far west as Cleveland and roads closed as far south as West Virginia as the slow-moving storm spent a second day parked over the region. But the worst of the storm hit New England.
Power failures were so severe and widespread 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.
In the coastal town of Hampton, the unoccupied Surf Hotel caught fire, and the howling winds quickly spread the blaze to the rest of the block. Five wood-frame buildings, including an arcade and a restaurant, burned. The cause was unknown.
To the north in Maine, waves crashing ashore at high tide Friday morning turned beachfront streets into rivers in Saco, where storms have claimed several homes over the years.
“Felt like the walls were coming in on the house, and the windows were rattling, and the trees were cracking. It was pretty impressive,” said Mark Breton, who rode out the storm in his house a few blocks from the beach.
Emergency officials in New Hampshire said that 330,000 homes and businesses in the state of 1.3 million residents were without power. Utility officials said it would take days before everyone’s lights flickered back on.
At the peak of the outages early Friday, there were more than 220,000 customers without power in New York, mostly in the Hudson Valley north of New York City. There were 140,000 in Maine, 100,000 in Massachusetts, 25,000 in Vermont, and 11,000 in New Jersey. Those numbers began falling Friday as crews got to work, in some places contending with downed trees and deep snow that made it difficult to move around.
The weather also snarled traffic. A tractor-trailer jackknifed and 16 commercial vehicles piled up on a mile of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, forcing closure of a 60-mile stretch in the hills of central Pennsylvania. Two injuries were reported.
Heavy snow also closed 30 miles of Interstate 84 in New York state, and state Police Sgt. Stephen Meehan called travel conditions throughout the mid-Hudson Valley “an absolute disaster.” Harriman, N.Y., reported 29 inches of snow, with more coming down. Montague, in northwestern New Jersey, got 26.5 inches.
Several mountain roads in West Virginia were also closed.
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.
In Philadelphia, it could be nearly impossible to get in the state-required 180 days of school before June 15 because of a string of snow days.
Most flights were canceled for the day at the three New York-area airports, and only one runway was open at Philadelphia International Airport, where delays were heavy.
New Jersey Transit canceled all buses in the northern half of the state, including those that take workers to New York. Government offices in New Jersey were opening two hours late.
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.
Much of the region, particularly Philadelphia and southern New Jersey, only recently finished cleaning up from a pair of storms a few weeks ago.
Even before snow began falling Thursday, Philadelphia and Atlantic City had experienced their snowiest winters on record. This time, those areas had 4 to 5 inches by midmorning Friday, but more was expected through Friday.
Across upstate New York and New England, it had been an unusually forgiving winter until this week.
For parts of the region, including western Vermont, snow remains in the forecast through Monday.
In Newark, N.J., Rosa Cabrera waited 20 minutes for a bus that never came, then took off on foot to her job at a factory. Cabrera said her usual 10-minute bus ride was at least a half-hour walk, on a clear day.
“We thought we were used to the winters here,” the Ecuador native said in Spanish, “but this is just too much.”
Mulvihill reported from Philadelphia. Also contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Chris Carola in Albany, N.Y.; Clarke Canfield in Saco; Shawn Marsh in Trenton, N.J.; Samantha Henry in Newark, N.J.; Randy Pennell in Philadelphia; Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vt.; Michael Rubinkam in Allentown, Pa.; and Kiley Armstrong and Ula Ilnytzky in New York City.
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