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Deadly winter storm snarls travel, closes U.S. northeast

A deadly winter storm moved north along the East Coast of the United States on Thursday, bringing heavy snow, sleet and rain across the Washington, D.C., and New York areas, grounding flights and shutting government offices.

Hundreds of thousands of people were without power in the southeast, a day after the storm arrived bringing heavy ice accumulations that downed electric lines and made driving treacherous.

The Washington area awoke to its heaviest snowfall of the winter. The federal government was closed, along with school districts in the area. The bus service was suspended, and residents were advised to stay home rather than risk a commute through snow as much as a foot throughout the area.

In Connecticut, Governor Dannel Malloy ordered non-essential workers to stay home.

The northeast has endured a series of winter storms this year, straining city and state budgets for snow removal as plow crews rack up overtime and inventories of salt for keeping roads clear of ice grow thin.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio raised the city’s expected winter weather budget by 60 per cent to $92m, funding that will go towards supplies, maintenance, equipment repairs, salt and fuel.

The city’s Sanitation Department had called on reinforcement crews who are paid an hourly wage to help shovel out sidewalks, fire hydrants and other snow-blocked areas. The city’s public schools remained open.

Winter storm warnings were in effect from North Carolina to Maine, with the National Weather Service warning of “hazardous” road conditions throughout the region. As much as 20 cm was forecast to fall from eastern Pennsylvania to Maine, with accumulations reaching 30 cm in places.

About 5,066 domestic flights were cancelled and another 636 were delayed on Thursday, with Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and Philadelphia International Airport the hardest hit, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.com.

The storm system, which has dumped heavy snow, sleet and freezing rain from eastern Texas to the Carolinas since Tuesday, was blamed for at least 13 deaths in the South and for knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of customers.

An ice storm warning was in effect for parts of central Georgia after 2.5 cm of ice had accumulated there and into South Carolina. Schools across the South were closed.

Nearly 230,000 Georgia Power customers were without electricity Thursday morning, with half of the outages reported in the Augusta area.

“The catastrophic part is mostly the ice across the South where they’re getting anywhere from a half inch to an inch of ice accumulating on power lines and trees,” said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster at the National Weather Service in College Park,Maryland.

Traffic on interstate highways ground to a halt on Wednesday as the snowfall picked up quickly and fatal road accidents and weather-related deaths were reported in Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.

Looking to add some comic relief to the dreary weather, a sheriff in north Georgia joked on Facebook that Valentine’s Day was cancelled due to the unsafe driving conditions.

“Men who live in the designated ‘NO VALENTINES DAY ZONE’ are exempt from having to run out and buy lottery scratchers and Hershey bars from the corner stores until Feb. 18, 2014, due to ice, snow, freezing rain,” Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry posted on the department’s Facebook page.


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