Freak snowstorms hit US

A freak October storm knocked out power to more than 3.1 million homes and businesses across north-east America, with close to 2ft of snow falling in some areas.

A freak October storm knocked out power to more than 3.1 million homes and businesses across north-east America, with close to 2ft of snow falling in some areas.

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,” said National Weather Service spokesman Chris Vaccaro.

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

The storm smashed record snowfall totals for October and worsened as it moved north.

Communities in western Massachusetts were among the hardest hit and snowfall totals topped 27ins in Plainfield, and nearby Windsor, Connecticut, had 26ins.

The storm was blamed for at least 11 deaths and states of emergency were declared in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and parts of New York.

Roads, railways and flights were knocked out and passengers on a JetBlue flight were stuck on a plane in Hartford, Connecticut, for more than seven hours on Saturday.

More than 800,000 power customers were without electricity in Connecticut alone - shattering the record set in August by Hurricane Irene. Massachusetts had more than 670,000 power cuts and New Jersey more than 600,000 – including governor Chris Christie’s house. Parts of Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, New York, Maine, Maryland and Vermont also were without power.

“It’s going to be a more difficult situation than we experienced in Irene,” Connecticut governor Dannel Malloy said. “We are expecting extensive and long-term power outages.”

At least four hospitals in the state were relying on generators for power.

Mr Vaccaro said the snowstorm “absolutely crushed previous records that in some cases dated back more than 100 years”. Saturday was only the fourth snowy October day in New York’s Central Park since record-keeping began 135 years ago.

There is usually not enough cold air in the region to support a snowstorm this time of year, but an area of high pressure over south-eastern Canada funnelled cold air south into the US, Mr Vaccaro said. That cold air combined with moisture coming from the North Carolina coast to produce the unseasonable weather.

The storm did less damage in coastal areas than it would have in winter because warm ocean temperatures limited snowfall, Mr Vaccaro said.

A few businesses enjoyed the early snow, with ski resorts in Vermont and Maine opening early. But it was more commonly an aggravation.

Many people were urged to avoid travel altogether, speed limits were reduced on bridges between New Jersey and Pennsylvania and some roads closed because of accidents and downed trees and power lines.

The JetBlue passengers stranded at Hartford’s Bradley International Airport were on a flight from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Newark, New Jersey, that had been diverted.

Passenger Andrew Carter, a football reporter for the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, said the plane ran out of snacks and bottled water and the toilets became blocked.

JetBlue spokeswoman Victoria Lucia said power cuts at the airport has made it difficult to get passengers off the plane and added that the passengers would be reimbursed.

There were other flight delays in the region over the weekend, and commuter trains in Connecticut and New York were delayed or suspended because of downed trees and signal problems. Amtrak suspended passenger train service on several Northeast routes, and one train from Chicago to Boston got stuck overnight in Palmer, Massachusetts. The 48 passengers had food and heat, a spokeswoman said, and they were taken by bus to their destinations yesterday.

Five people died in Pennsylvania because of the storm, two each in car accidents in suburban Philadelphia. An 84-year-old Temple man was killed on Saturday when a snow-laden tree fell on his home while he was sleeping in his recliner chair.

Storm-related traffic accidents also killed people in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. A New Jersey man died on Saturday in a house fire sparked by a downed power line, and a man in Springfield, Massachusetts, was electrocuted by downed wires.

The snowstorm was even blamed for a death in Canada. Authorities say road conditions, no seatbelt and high speed were factors in the death of a driver on eastern Prince Edward Island.

Heavy rainfall and snow soaked parts of Atlantic Canada as the storm churned northward.

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