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THE NATION

Rare fall snowstorm clobbers the East

More than 3 million are left without power, and in some areas it may not be back on for days.

October 31, 2011|Geraldine Baum
  • The Pitman family lost power in their Smithville, Pa., home during the weekend storm, but the kids were making the best of it afterward. The rare October snowstorm knocked out power to more than 3 million people from Maine to Virginia.
The Pitman family lost power in their Smithville, Pa., home during the weekend… (Carolyn Cole, Los Angeles…)

NEW YORK — Heavy rain, snow and wind walloped the Northeast during the weekend, leaving 3.2 million people without power from Virginia to Maine and many more wondering: What happened to fall?

"It's only October," said Melissa Mack of Hartford, Conn. "We haven't even finished the kids' soccer season."

Trees with their leaves colored in autumnal glory turned white from the heavy, wet snow.

Many limbs and trees came crashing to earth under the weight, taking power lines with them.

The storm was being blamed for five deaths, including that of a Bronx grandmother who relied on an oxygen machine that shut down when her house lost power.

In the same way that Tropical Storm Irene disrupted power and travel, the nor'easter trapped people and forced many to suspend their lives.

In Connecticut, for example, the governor had 900 cots and food brought for travelers stranded at Bradley International Airport north of Hartford.

Flights were delayed or canceled all along the Eastern Seaboard, and commuter trains in Connecticut and New York were delayed or suspended.

About 200 JetBlue passengers were stranded at Bradley for seven hours Saturday with no food, water or working bathrooms. An airline spokesman told the Hartford Courant that the airline would fully refund the fares of all passengers who had been diverted to Bradley.

A record 820,000 Connecticut residents were without power Sunday. The previous record was set three months ago, when Irene cut short summer and left 750,000 without power, many for days.

And fall seemed forgotten, at least for the moment. The Northeast looked more like Christmas than Halloween.

"It's just so wrong," said Lily Meyersohn, 15, of Manhattan, where Central Park was briefly closed after a downed limb injured a woman.

Across the city, parks officials received 1,000 calls about dismembered trees.

Saturday was only the fourth snowy October day in Central Park since record-keeping began 135 years ago, the National Weather Service said.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the historic storm could leave people without electricity for up to a week as utility companies scrambled to respond to 10,000 reports of power lines mangled by trees. Cellphones were affected too, he said, with AT&T reporting 164 towers out.

"We're going to have extensive and long-term power outages.... Some people could be without power for as much as a week," Malloy said at a briefing Sunday.

Six hospitals were without power and relying on generators, officials said. Malloy said state officials were trying to find out how many nursing homes were without power.

He asked residents to clear their property if they could, but to stay away from power lines.

"It's very dangerous out there," he said.

Many churches canceled Sunday services, and school districts across the region announced classes would be canceled until power was restored.

States of emergency were declared in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and parts of New York.

As the storm was moving into suburban areas of Connecticut on Saturday morning, customers flooded into Halas Farm Market and Garden Center near New Fairfield looking for two things -- firewood and pumpkins.

"We sold about 500, 600 pieces of firewood today, 20 pieces at a time," farm stand worker Mary Broas told the Courant. "On a normal Saturday in October, we often don't sell any firewood."

The widespread power outage particularly affected those who heat with electricity -- like Peter Bloom, 70, of South Windsor, Conn.

"I'm going to put another blanket on. What else can I do?" he told the Associated Press.

"At least I'll save a few bucks on my electric bill."

In New Jersey, the state's largest utility, Public Service Electric and Gas, told customers that it might be Wednesday before power was fully restored. Across the state, more than 600,000 residents lost electricity.

Of all the regions, western Massachusetts was hit the hardest by snow, said Brian Korty, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Maryland. Peru, a town of 800, had 32 inches, he said.

By Sunday, there were flurries in Maine, but mostly the storm had passed.

"What made the storm unusual was its breadth, the amount of area covered by heavy snow," Korty said. "It's historic."

In southeastern Pennsylvania, a man napping in his recliner died after a limb came crashing through his roof, and in Springfield, Mass., a man was electrocuted. Storm conditions contributed to two more deaths on roads in Connecticut and New York.

And Kheowla Ramprasad, 77, died about 8:45 p.m. Saturday after her home in the Bronx lost power, police said. She apparently suffered from a heart problem and diabetes and had gone on oxygen support two weeks ago, her family told reporters.

geraldine.baum@latimes.com

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