A blizzard-like storm has rocked the Mid-Atlantic and North-eastern US states, crippling travel across the region and causing hundreds of thousands of power cuts.
Those who did venture out were treated to nearly desolate stores on what is usually one of the busiest shopping days of the year. There were virtually no lines to get a picture with a mall Santa on the last weekend before Christmas.
The National Guard used Humvees to rescue stranded motorists in Virginia and some 500 people sought warmth and refuge in emergency shelters.
Virginia emergency officials reported three deaths that appear linked to the storm. One person was killed in a traffic accident caused by icy roads. Authorities believe another person died of exposure, and the weather may have contributed to another traffic death.
In Ohio, two people were killed in accidents on snow-covered roads hit by the same storm system.
Nearly two feet (60 centimetres) of snow fell in some areas, and the US capital was under a blizzard warning. Public transportation nearly ground to a halt, but it wasn’t enough to keep senators from staying in session to debate health care reform.
Snowploughs cleared the runway at Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Washington as President Barack Obama returned from climate talks in Copenhagen. The White House said Mr Obama rode in a motorcade back to the White House, instead of taking his helicopter, because of the conditions.
The Smithsonian Institution closed its museums, and the National Mall, which normally would be swarming with tourists, instead was the scene of snowball fights and cross-country skiers.
In western Virginia, officials said several hundred motorists became stranded and had to be rescued by four-wheeled-drive vehicles.
At the Cherry Hill Mall in New Jersey, parking spots were plentiful. Inside, there was no line for a picture with Santa.
Mayors in Washington and Philadelphia declared snow emergencies and forecasters said the conditions could worsen. Governors in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky declared states of emergency.
Forecasters said the storm system was expected to generate winds up to 35 miles (56 kilometres) per hour, which could cause near-whiteout conditions. It could be the most snow in the US capital since a February 2003 storm dumped nearly 27 inches (69 centimetres) at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
At a Walmart in the Richmond, Virginia, area, Nnika White took advantage of the few shoppers. “It’s nice because no one’s here. For shopping, it’s great, but the roads are very, very bad,” she said.