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Storm clutches Northeast in a snowy, icy grip; D.C. shut down

February 13, 2014|By Richard Simon, Alana Semuels and Michael Muskal

WASHINGTON -- A full-blown nor’easter huffed and puffed its way through the mid-Atlantic region Thursday, shutting airports and government offices a day after the storm battered much of the Old South, leaving hundreds of thousands without electricity and many heeding warnings to stay home and avoid dangerous roads.

Up to more than a foot of snow had fallen in parts of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania and the storm was still packing plenty of power as it punched its way through the metropolitan New York area, heading toward New England. In a winter that has already seen many snowfall records blown away by a series of furious storms, the current blizzard was pouring more grief onto shoulders already weary of the seemingly never-ending cycle of digging out and preparing anew.

At least 14 deaths have been reported in the storm’s march across the South and more than 600,000 customers remained without electricity as utilities from Arkansas to New Jersey fought to repair power lines downed by heavy ice and falling trees. More than 10,000 flights have been canceled and the economy has taken a hit as shoppers stayed home.

PHOTOS: Snow blankets East Coast

In the nation’s capital, the biggest storm of the season shut down the federal government, airports and schools, creating an Olympic-like challenge for anyone trying to get around. It further taxed residents weary of the cold weather, snow days and canceled meetings.

Even if anyone wanted to go out, it wasn’t going to be easy getting anywhere, with more than a foot of snow already on the ground in some areas and more forecast through the day.

Cancellations mounted throughout the day. Vice President Joe Biden canceled a trip to address the House Democrats' retreat on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Also canceled: the Disney on Ice show at the Verizon Center. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority suspended bus service due to “extremely hazardous travel conditions’’ and warned commuters that above-ground sections of the rail system could be shut down.

Runways were closed at Dulles International and Reagan National airports.

With the exception of an occasional car or two, the roads are quiet around Foggy Bottom in the district’s downtown. By one entrance to the State Department, there was only a security guard standing by several large bags of salt.

“It's the worst [snow] we've had in the last four years,” Malcolm Griffin said on his way to work. “I think this may be worse than last year.”

Demi Skipper, who said she has lived in the district her whole life and was on her way back from picking up files at the Capitol, was stoic.

"People freak out for no reason and things just close,” she said.

Some were trying to find ways around cabin fever, an emotional danger given the number of days spent indoors because of the frequent storms this year.

In the Annapolis, Md., area, a Jeff Solsby, born and raised in Southern California, planned to go exploring in his four-wheel-drive truck.

"Thus far today, our street isn't plowed and only a few hardy souls have ventured out,’’ he said. “Our dog is upset because we won't let him run off leash in the piles of snow; the kids are upset because the snow is too mushy and wet for sledding; and, mom and dad are praying the power stays on so we can deploy the nuclear option for child care -- Disney movies!"

But any kind of travel remained a problem as governors up and down the East Coast declared states of emergency and warned motorists to remain inside.

John Townsend of AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Washington office said in an email that many roads were “littered with disabled cars.’’ Virginia state police reported one weather-related road fatality, the 14th in recent days in the South.

In Garrett County, Md., county administrator Monty Pagenhardt echoed the sentiment of many mid-Atlantic residents who have endured a winter of very cold temperatures.

“I’m just getting tired of it,’’ he said.

In New York, the snow was hard, nearly hail-like, and had piled up on sidewalks and steps by early Thursday morning. Trucks and cars slid on the snowy roads, icy from previous storm, and in many parts of the city, unplowed. Wind gusts reached 20 mph in the morning and a winter storm warning was in effect until 6 a.m. Friday.

Schools were not canceled, leading some parents and kids to trek across unshoveled sidewalks, and other students to just stay home. Others took to Twitter in anger, blaming Mayor Bill de Blasio for telling people to stay off the roads but keeping schools open.

Brian Troffer was leading his 6-year-old daughter across an unshoveled sidewalk in Brooklyn on her way to school. He said he had to check online to make sure there was school, but sure enough, schools were open. Then, he was going to head into work.

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