Snow, wind batter US East Coast

A second blizzard in a week buried the U.S. Northeast on Wednesday, breaking snowfall records in the nation's capital and other cities, leaving thousands without power and creating a multimillion-dollar mess.

From Washington to Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, cities largely ground to a halt with governments shut down, public transport scaled back, thousands of flights canceled and some highways closed as snow and powerful winds created whiteout conditions.

Federal government agencies in the Washington area were ordered to remain closed on Thursday for a fourth straight day, a move that costs an estimated $100 million per day in lost productivity.

The United Nations in New York was closed on Wednesday. But Wall Street and many other businesses plowed on, and one brokerage house, J.P. Morgan Chase, offered cots in conference rooms for workers if they got stuck at the office.

"I was as excited as all the school kids when I found out the U.N. was having a snow day. But I don't really get the day off, I am still working from home," said Stephanie Dunstan, 33, an Australian who works for the U.N. Development Program.

The snow dampened Wall Street trading and was also partly blamed for poor demand at a $25 billion U.S. bond auction.

"People are focusing on how they're getting home because of the snow," said Jeffrey Frankel, president of Stuart Frankel & Co in New York, describing it as "a very dull" stock market.

The National Weather Service said Washington's winter snowfall broke a 110-year-old record with Wednesday's blizzard setting a new mark of 54.9 inches (139.4 cm). Baltimore also set a seasonal record and news reports indicated Philadelphia did too.

"What we've seen today are whiteout conditions, blizzard conditions," Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley told "PBS NewsHour."

"Travel on our highways has been very treacherous," he added. "We've had a number of building collapses and we've seen more snowfall in the last 72 hour period than we've ever seen in the 130-year recorded history of these sorts of snow and weather events in our state."

Drivers were warned to stay off roads as the snow caused accidents and highway closures. Local media reported multi-car accidents in both Pennsylvania and Virginia.

HEFTY BILL

Thousands of flights were canceled, and airlines relaxed ticket policies to allow passengers to change their plans without penalty, moves that could cloud the outlook for an industry already hard hit by the battered economy.

The blizzard was expected to end early on Thursday, leaving a hefty clean-up bill. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said it cost taxpayers $1 million for each inch (2.54 cm) that fell. O'Malley said he was hoping for a federal disaster declaration to help ease the financial burden.

Authorities expect between 8 and 12 inches total (20 to 30.5 cm) accumulation in New York, or less than the 12 to 18 inches (30.5 to 46 cm) forecasters had been predicting earlier. Winds also proved to be less fierce than had been expected.

Bloomberg said schools would be open on Thursday, after Wednesday's snow day, which was only the third in New York in eight years.

The mayor, calling the storm "a bit of an on again, off again affair," asked those going out in the evening to leave their cars at home and take mass transit, most of which was functioning normally.

John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia Airports remained open throughout the storm, although many if not most flights were canceled. JetBlue canceled all New York area incoming and outgoing flights for the day, while Newark International Airport closed down on Wednesday as the storm took hold.

In Washington, President Barack Obama had just one item listed on his public agenda and met at the White House with U.S. black leaders to discuss jobs and the economy.

The U.S. House of Representatives canceled votes for the week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Senate would resume work on Thursday, but he doubted the Senate would have any votes this week. Many congressional hearings were also called off.

Amtrak rail warned of limited service along its lucrative Northeast corridor.

Some 25,000 households lost power in the Baltimore and Washington areas, but electricity had been restored to all but about 10,000 by nightfall, according to reports by Pepco, Dominion and Constellation Energy Group's BG& E, the region's main electric companies.

About 30,000 people were without power in southeastern Pennsylvania, said the local utility PECO.

The storm came as residents were still trying to dig out from weekend snowfalls of 18 (46 cm) to 32 inches (81 cm) from Washington to southern New Jersey. Some struggled to restock refrigerators and clear fallen trees ahead of the new storm.

Schools were closed across much of the region, and many canceled classes for the rest of the week.

But on Broadway the shows went on. The producers of the hit revival "Hair" offered special $40 tickets for students for Wednesday night's performance.

 

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