Paul DeCarlo uses a snow blower to clear the walk in front of his Greenfield,… (Matthew Cavanaugh, European…)
BOSTON — The snow fell and fell, and when it stopped, New Englanders climbed out of their homes, got out their shovels, and started digging out from one of the biggest blizzards in a generation.
By the time the sun peeked out of the clouds Saturday afternoon, the winter storm had dumped more than 2 feet of snow in cities across the Northeast, forced evacuations in some coastal communities, contributed to more than half a million customers losing power across six states and grounded thousands of flights.
At least seven deaths were attributed to the storm, including two people in Boston who died from carbon monoxide poisoning in cars. One, a 14-year-old boy, died while taking a break from shoveling snow when he sat in a running car with a snow-clogged exhaust pipe. Several others died in traffic accidents.
The storm broke records in Portland, Maine, where it dropped 31.9 inches. New Haven, Conn., got 34 inches while Worcester, Mass., saw 28, although those totals did not break records. Boston, with 24.9 inches, fell short of its 2003 record of 27.6 inches.
Wind gusts of 83 mph were measured off the coast of Massachusetts. And although the worst is over, the recovery was expected to be cold and grueling.
"It's clear we still have a lot of work to do," Boston Mayor Tom Menino said at a news conference.
Some roads in Connecticut and Massachusetts were impassable; the mayor of West Hartford, Conn., told residents that the town's roads wouldn't all be cleared until Sunday night.
Boston's public transit system was still not running Saturday, although Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick lifted a driving ban he had ordered Friday afternoon. Governors in Rhode Island and Connecticut also lifted travel bans they had issued, though some towns still instructed residents to stay off the roads.
Logan Airport hoped to reopen by 11 p.m. Saturday and begin airline operations Sunday morning, but whiteout conditions on the airfield had made cleanup difficult. The three airports surrounding New York City reopened Saturday morning, although operations were not yet back to normal volume after the cancellation of more than 5,000 flights since Thursday.
An estimated 650,000 homes and businesses were without power Saturday across the region as around-the-clock crews, hampered by gusty winds and difficult road conditions, worked to repair equipment.
"To say the least, the weather conditions are prohibitive as to us being able to restore things as quickly as we'd like to," said National Grid spokeswoman Charlotte McCormack. "There's subfreezing temperatures, equipment freezing, downed wires, and some of the roads were and are still impassable."
Homeowners across New England who haven't had to shovel much snow in the last two years suddenly remembered what a pounding winter storm is really like. Wet, heavy snow buried cars. One Connecticut man reportedly died while shoveling snow.
"I don't remember getting this much snow at one time in Boston," said Emily Holmes, 33, who spent three hours Saturday afternoon shoveling her driveway and sidewalk in Watertown, Mass.
Like many storm-shuttered residents, she was ready to get out of the house, which lost power for a while on Friday night. She and her girlfriend planned to hop in their car and head to New Hampshire for the remainder of the weekend.
With the Massachusetts travel ban lifted Saturday at 4 p.m., cars started to join the snowplows on the streets, and stores began reopening.
In the aftermath of the fifth-biggest storm in Boston's history, Carolyn Malfa's son started plowing the streets Friday afternoon, and was still out plowing Saturday afternoon. That's why she found herself alone with a shovel, knee-deep in snow on her driveway. "I'm afraid I'm going to get lost," she joked. Still, she kept digging.
"It's great to be a New Englander," she said. "Every day is a different thing."
For some coastal residents, a high tide Saturday morning sent water rushing down the streets and into homes. Some communities on the southeast shore of Massachusetts were evacuated Saturday.
But overall, authorities said, it could have been worse. Travel bans kept people off the roads. Dozens of commuters stuck in their cars in eastern Long Island were rescued quickly. New York City, still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, was spared the worst of the storm.
"It looks like we've dodged a bullet," New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said in a news conference.
The storm is certain to leave a lasting impression on the millions of families who stocked up, prepared, waited and watched. They include Becky Rosen, 36, her husband and their two sons, who moved to the Boston area from San Francisco on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the whole family came down with norovirus, which causes nausea and vomiting. They were too weak to do much preparing for the storm. On Saturday, Rosen, who had made the move to be closer to family, said she could only laugh about the experience.
"I guess it's been pretty ironic," she said. "It's like, 'Welcome to Massachusetts; here's the blizzard, here's the norovirus — enjoy.'"
Semuels reported from Boston and Susman from New York.
Times staff writers Marisa Gerber and Michael Muskal in Los Angeles contributed to this report.