Deadly early snowstorms hit US northeast

by: AFP From: AFP October 31, 2011 10:42AM



Fire Department members removes branches off a fallen tree to free a damaged vehicle in West Harrison, New York, after heavy snow storms. AP

A FREAK October snowstorm has knocked out power to more than 3.2 million homes and businesses across the US northeast, with close to 60 centimetres of snow falling in some areas over the weekend.

The storm was blamed for at least nine deaths, and states of emergency were declared in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and parts of New York.

The storm was even more damaging because leaves still on the trees caught more of the particularly wet and heavy snow, overloading branches that snapped and wreaked havoc.

“You just have absolute tree carnage with this heavy snow just straining the branches,” National Weather Service spokesman Chris Vaccaro said today.

From Maryland to Maine, officials said it would take days to restore electricity, even though the snow ended today.

The “historic early season” snowstorm wrought havoc on air, rail and road traffic from Washington to Boston, with the National Weather Service warning that travel at night would be “extremely hazardous”.

One person died in Connecticut in a traffic accident caused by icy road conditions, local media reported.

In Massachusetts, a fallen power line electrocuted a man, and a tree that fell under the weight of snow killed a person in Pennsylvania, the reports said.

A total of two million people were without power in a storm zone stretching from the Mid-Atlantic to New England, MSNBC reported.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie declared a state of emergency across his state “because of the severe weather conditions”, he said on Twitter.

Nearly 500,000 customers were without power in New Jersey alone, he said, urging residents to “stay safe and off the roads”.

Air travelers were seeing an average delay of six hours on flights to and from Newark International Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration said. Similar problems were affecting New York’s Kennedy international airport.

Passengers at Philadelphia’s international airport were experiencing delays of two and a half hours on average, the FAA said on its website.

Rail travel was also hit, with the Amtrak service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg suspended until further notice due to signal problems caused by the storm.

Christie said there were “significant closures and delays” on NJ Transit train lines due to downed trees on the tracks.

Forecasters issued a winter storm warning for large parts of the northeast, predicting heavy snow, freezing temperatures and strong winds with gusts of up to 100km/h).

Nearly 30cm of snow fell in parts of Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Jersey, authorities said.

In Manhattan, where the storm marked the first October snow in decades, forecasters said up to 10 inches could fall.

In Maryland and West Virginia, some towns already had 25cm on the ground as of 2000 GMT Saturday, the weather service said.

“I don’t remember any time I saw snow in October, and I’ve lived here all my life,” said 42-year-old Baltimore area resident Ethan Yankellow.

The National Weather Service reported up to 11cm in northern Baltimore County, as much as 15cm in Carroll County and up to 22cm in Allegany County.

Unseasonably cold air was pouring into the northeast, and deep tropical moisture was set to surge northward along the east coast and “fuel an expanding area of heavy rain and snow”, the NWS said.

Much of the region was hit by Hurricane Irene in August. Its heavy rains and wind killed more than 40 people, left millions without power, destroyed homes and caused record flooding.

The unseasonably cold and wet weather did not dampen the spirits of anti-Wall Street protesters camped out in New York and Washington.

“Snow, what snow? I’ve got a country to worry about,” read a sign held by a woman at New York’s Zuccotti Park — the nerve centre of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“We’re cold, we’re wet – cancel the debt!” chanted a few dozen protesters marching in downtown Washington.

At the White House, President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle did not let the weather ruin their annual Halloween trick-or-treating event. They handed out candy, cookies and dried fruit to area children wrapped in wet coats.

“Let’s give out some candy,” Obama said. “I know it’s cold. … It’s not ideal out here.”

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