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Northeastern states shut down as deadly winter storm arrives

December 14, 2007|From the Associated Press

COLUMBIA, CONN. — A winter storm responsible for deaths in the Midwest blasted the Northeast on Thursday, dumping snow and sleet and clogging some of the nation's most heavily traveled highways.

Some areas could receive up to a foot of snow. Schools, businesses and government agencies in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Connecticut closed early.

The resulting exodus choked highways and streets. Authorities reported hundreds of mostly minor accidents throughout the region. Some vehicles were stranded along roadways, preventing plows from getting through.

Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell found herself stuck, crawling along the highway for two hours from Suffield to Hartford in what should have been a 30-minute drive.

"Stay home," she advised. "Go home, prop your feet up, watch the news."

Traffic also slowed at Northeast airports.

There were delays of up to three hours for arriving flights at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, where more than 200 flights had been canceled by late afternoon, officials said.

Elsewhere, Boston's Logan International reported more than 100 flights canceled, as did Bradley International near Hartford. No major problems were reported at New York's airports. Some airlines allowed passengers to reschedule their flights for free.

The storm has been blamed for 35 deaths, mostly in traffic accidents, since it developed last weekend.

In Oklahoma, about 342,000 homes and businesses still were without power Thursday, officials said.

In Missouri, about 64,000 people were without electricity, including roughly 32,000 in the Kansas City and St. Joseph areas, state officials said.

In the Northeast, hundreds of snow plow operators were having a tough time getting out of traffic jams.

"How can you plow and put material down when the trucks are stuck in traffic?" asked Doug Harris at Connecticut's transportation department storm center.

Rell asked tractor-trailer drivers to get off highways for at least two hours to give plows room to work.

State police said portions of several highways had to be closed for a time in part because motorists abandoned their vehicles in the travel lanes.

Susan Randolph of Bolton said it took her an hour to make her normal 20-minute commute from her job at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.

"A lot of drivers seem to have forgotten their snow driving skills," she said.

Along the shoreline in Milford, sleet and hail created sheets of ice on the roads.

Ken Johnson, who was stopped at a Milford gas station, was hoping for even more snow. The 50-year-old arborist said he relies on snow plowing for his income in the winter.

"I'm waiting for the people to start calling," he said.

In Rhode Island, two dozen school districts closed early, as did companies and state agencies in Providence. The workers' exodus and the snow choked streets in the capital city.

"Traffic is at a standstill," Providence Police Sgt. Paul Zienowicz said. "It's one big traffic jam."

In Albany, N.Y., snowy roads slowed traffic to a crawl. "People are crazy. . . . They're still shopping," said Kay McIntyre, shoveling a sidewalk in suburban Colonie as cars inched into a nearby mall parking lot.

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