US east coast struggles against severe winter storm

Massive snowfall and strong winds again blasted Washington and much of the US east coast as the US capital struggled with the latest storm in its most difficult winter in memory.

Massive snowfall and strong winds again blasted Washington and much of the US east coast as the US capital struggled with the latest storm in its most difficult winter in memory.

The Washington area has been virtually paralysed since a storm on Friday dumped up to 3ft of snow, shutting down the federal government, making travel perilous and leaving residents scrambling to stock up on groceries.

The latest blizzard compounded the problems for Washington and brought new ones to New York and other north-eastern cities.

In Pennsylvania, the governor closed large stretches of major highways because the second major storm in less than a week was making travel too risky.

“The snow has just been relentless,” said Washington Fire Chief Dennis L Rubin, a Washington native who said the back-to-back storms are like nothing he has ever experienced. “It doesn’t seem like we’re getting much of a break.”

Washington broke a centuries-old record for snowfall, with 54.9 inches collected, half-an-inch above the previous record from the 1898-1899 season. Nearby Baltimore also set a new record, and meteorologists warned the severe weather may not be the last the region has seen this year. A snow record also was set in Philadelphia to the north.

“The winter, of course, is not even close to being over yet,” said Eric Wilhelm, a meteorologists with AccuWeather, who predicted the winter of 2009-10 will almost certainly go down as the snowiest on record along the East Coast.

Just south of the US capital in Arlington, Virginia, streets that had been packed with people playing in the snow over the weekend were empty.

“I’ve seen enough,” said Bill Daly, 57, as gusts of wind and snow lashed his face. “It’s scary and beautiful at the same time. I wanted to shovel but thought if I had a heart attack it could be a while before anybody found me in this kind of weather.”

New York, which managed to avoid last week’s snowstorm, was not so lucky this time around. The city was blanketed by the winter storm, which forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights and caused the United Nations to order its workers to stay home, along with the city’s 1.1 million school children, who got only their third snow day in six years.

But others braved the conditions to make the trek into work. Harry Tucker, 44, a bond trader, waited for a commuter train in Pelham, New York, to take him into the city.

“I work on commission,” he said. “If I don’t work I don’t get paid.”

City workers in New York clad in bright orange parkas shovelled snow from Times Square, and Broadway theatres offered discount tickets in an effort to fill empty seats in shows, after the weekend storm drove down ticket sales over the normally busy weekend.

In Washington and nearby Baltimore, authorities were forced to pull snow plows off the streets as the wind whipped snow in gusts of 25 to 45mph.

Cross-country skiers and sledders took over the lawn of the US Capitol building, largely devoid of politicians after the House of Representatives decided on Tuesday to call off the remainder of its work week and the Senate cancelled hearings.

“This snow reminds me of when I was driving tractor-trailers in Saudi Arabia and the sand storm starts and you can’t see the roads,” said Syeed Zada, 55, a plough driver for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

No-one was injured when heavy snow collapsed part of the roof and a wall at a Smithsonian Institution storage building in Maryland that houses artefacts from Washington’s National Air and Space Museum.

Airlines cancelled hundreds of flights at airports on the east coast, and Washington’s two airports had no flights coming or going throughout Wednesday.

Electric crews in New Jersey were working to restore power to 80,000 homes and businesses that lost electricity, but officials said they planned to resume bus routes today and open nearly all train stations so residents could try to get to work.

More than 100,000 utility customers in Pennsylvania were without power. Some never got it back after the last storm.

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