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Home > Topics > Accident
January 03, 2014

9 killed as blizzard blasts Northeast

Slick roads caused fatal crashes, a woman froze to death and a man was crushed by a 100-foot tall pile of road salt

By Rodrique Ngowi and Sylvia Wingfield
The Associated Press

BOSTON — A storm dropped a blanket of light, powdery snow across the Northeast and ushered in frigid temperatures Friday that were unusual even for cities accustomed to blasts of winter weather. The storm, which shut down major highways temporarily and grounded flights, was blamed for at least nine deaths in the eastern half of the country.

The nor'easter was accompanied by plummeting temperatures that on Friday morning reached 8 degrees below zero in Burlington, Vt., with a wind chill of 29 below and 2 degrees in Boston, with a wind chill of minus 20. It dumped 23 inches of snow in Boxford, Mass., and 18 inches in parts of western New York near Rochester. Thirteen inches of snow fell in Boston, while Lakewood, N.J., got 10 inches and New York City's Central Park got 6.

On a mostly empty Main Street in Concord, N.H., Kathy Woodfin hustled to work, a tall iced coffee turning to caramel-colored slush in her left hand. It was 7 degrees at 9 a.m. and the wind zipping through alleyways blew a fine, stinging snow in her face.

"I just run from heated car to heated building," the New Hampshire native said. "It's just like down South, where they run from air conditioned car to air conditioned building."

Schools were closed across the region, and police were busy responding to accidents and reports of stranded vehicles. Governors in New York and New Jersey declared states of emergency Thursday, urging residents to stay home. But few power outages were reported Friday and the cold made the snow easy to manage.

"It's light and fluffy, so it's easy," said 33-year-old Michael Connors, was shoveling in front of businesses in downtown Fairfield, Conn.

The snowfall, frigid temps and stiff winds extended the holiday break for some students in the Northeast for a second day while posing the first test for New York City's new mayor and perhaps the last challenge for Boston's outgoing one.

U.S. airlines canceled more than 2,300 flights Thursday because of the snowfall and low visibility. By Friday morning, about 1,900 flights were canceled nationwide, according to the aviation tracking website FlightAware.com. The bulk of those were in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Workers at a convenience store in Mount Laurel, N.J., said they were busy all night as they fueled plow drivers with coffee and other necessities.

Among those stopping in as the snow continued to fall before dawn was David Neff, a newspaper deliveryman. "It sucks out here," Neff said. "They're just starting to plow stuff. We definitely got what they said and maybe a little more."

The brunt of the storm began late Thursday in parts of New England and New York state. Forecasters warned that gusts of up to 30 miles per hour could bring wind chills to minus 25 degrees, cold enough to cause frostbite in about 30 minutes or less. The weather service said people should dress warmly to avoid hypothermia and cover all exposed skin.

It was so cold in a place that bills itself as Snowtown USA that some events at the town's winter festival were canceled. Organizers of this week's Snowtown festival in Watertown in northern New York scratched a snowshoe tour, horse-drawn carriage rides, dog sled rides and a snow softball tournament as temperatures plunged below zero across the North Country. Organizers moved other outdoor activities to indoor facilities.

In Hallowell, Maine, where temperatures dipped to minus 8 degrees Friday morning, David Wheelock used a shovel to search the snow where he dropped his keys outside his son's copy and printing shop.

The 73-year-old lifelong Maine resident said he's seen his fair share of bad winters and wasn't too fazed by the snow and bitter cold. But he said it can be dangerous if people aren't prepared for the worst, with things like back-up heat sources at home, and jumper cables and extra clothes in the car.

"I don't always rely on someone else to come bail me out," he said.

Temperatures in the Northeast are expected to rise above freezing over the weekend, before the arrival of another blast of frigid air that was already affecting the Midwest. In Wisconsin, a record low temperature was set Friday morning in Green Bay, where the mercury dipped to minus 18. The National Weather Service said that topped the 17-below-zero mark last recorded in 1979.

In the East, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered three major highways closed overnight. The Thruway between Albany and the Bronx, the Long Island Expressway and Interstate 84 between the Pennsylvania and Connecticut borders all reopened Friday morning. Southbound Interstate 95 closed in Philadelphia for several hours because of a jackknifed tractor-trailer.

The heavy weather began rolling in just a day after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was sworn in to lead the nation's largest city and a few days before Boston Mayor Thomas Menino ends 20 years in office on Monday.

De Blasio, who as public advocate in 2010 criticized his predecessor Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his handling of a large snowstorm, dispatched hundreds of plows and salt spreaders on the streets as soon as the snow started falling Thursday night. The New York metropolitan area got between 6 to 11 inches of snow.

On Friday morning, de Blasio was shoveling the sidewalk outside his Brooklyn home. Wearing a black jacket and gloves, he joked with reporters and demonstrated proper shoveling techniques. He later brought out salt to spread on the walk.

Amtrak was running trains on all of its Northeast lines on Friday but operating on a modified schedule, spokeswoman Christina Leeds said. Commuter trains Metro-North Railroad, which runs trains between New York City and suburban Connecticut, Long Island and New York's Hudson Valley, the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit were operating on weekend schedules. Chains were placed on New York City buses so they would not get stuck in drifts.

Slick roads were blamed for traffic deaths in Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois. Authorities said a 71-year-old woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease froze to death after she wandered away from her rural western New York home.

As the storm approached, a worker at a suburban Philadelphia salt storage facility was killed when a 100-foot-tall pile of road salt fell and crushed him. Falls Township police said the man was trapped while operating a backhoe. There was no word on what may have caused the accident.

The snowstorm worked its way east from the Midwest, where it dropped up to a foot of snow on Michigan and more than a foot in parts of Illinois, prompting the cancellation Thursday of hundreds of flights at both Chicago airports. It merged with low pressure moving northeast off the mid-Atlantic coast, forming a nor'easter.

Associated PressCopyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Nearly 17 inches of snow fell in some of Chicago's northern suburbs, and more than 12 inches of snow was recorded at Midway International Airport. About 10 Southwest Airlines planes were stuck on the tarmac at Midway for up to four hours amid flight backlogs.

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