Eerie: Blizzard brings New York to sudden halt

Pedestrians walk past diners in a restaurant as the snow from projected major winter storm begins to fall in Boston, Massachusetts January 26, 2015. A massive, wind-whipped blizzard slammed into the US Northeast on Monday, creating havoc for more than 60 million people. (Reuters)

Tens of millions of Americans from New Jersey to the Canadian border braced themselves Monday for a ferocious blizzard that New York's mayor warned could be one of the worst in history.

Winter Storm Juno is expected to dump up to three feet (around a meter) of snow in parts of the northeast, forcing the cancellation of more than 6,000 flights on Monday and Tuesday.

"It could be a matter of life and death, and that's not being overly dramatic, so caution is required," New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo said, as residents stockpiled supplies.

States of emergency were declared in New York and New Jersey, and a travel ban imposed in Connecticut as residents scrambled to get home as quickly as possible and prepare for the worst.

Heavy snow began falling across the region, expected to escalate into a major storm with poor visibility and dangerous winds overnight that will paralyze parts of New York and New England.

The National Weather Service issued blizzard warnings across the northeast. Flood warnings are also in effect, with officials warning against power outages and falling trees.

Cuomo called out several hundred National Guard to be on standby in New York and Long Island.

Commuters poured out of Manhattan offices early, packing out stations as trains laid on extra services to get people home as visibility deteriorated dramatically during the afternoon.

With deserted train stations and eerily empty streets, Winter Storm Juno emptied New York, the "city that never sleeps."

Joseph Burke, a lawyer who lives in the suburbs, was waiting in the frigid lobby of Grand Central Terminal.

The station is one of the hubs of public transport in New York, but on Monday evening - the usually frantic rush hour - the famous terminal was nearly dead.

"Usually I go back home around 6-6:30 pm, but today I'm leaving a couple of hours earlier," said Burke, seemingly one of the few left in the mad dash to avoid the worst Mother Nature could hurl at the "Big Apple."

The arrival of the mega snow storm was billed by authorities in New York as one of the most severe ever seen.

It triggered exceptional safety measures including the halting of public transport starting at 11:00 pm (0400 GMT Tuesday). Road travel was made a criminal offense in thirteen counties of New York state, such were the fears about the storm's impact.

Like many New Yorkers, Burke planned to follow the advise of the city's Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor of the State of New York Andrew Cuomo, and stay at his home Tuesday.

Officials said preparation for the blizzard was a matter of life and death. They warned of power outages and falling trees. The National Guard was also mobilized.

At Union Square, in the heart of usually bustling Manhattan, the vast underground station was empty - as was the above-ground park.

In addition to disrupting the lives of New Yorkers, the rapid snow fall and plunging temperatures of minus two Celsius (29 F) shook up the plans of tourists in the city.

Sightseeing hot spots such as the Brooklyn Bridge, usually thronging with camera-wielding visitors and locals, were devoid of people.

More than 6,500 flights were canceled Monday and Tuesday in the US, many in the city's three area airports JFK, Newark and LaGuardia.

Shows on Broadway and at the Metropolitan Opera were casualties of the extreme weather, as were NBA basketball games. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, another big tourist draw, will remain closed Tuesday.

But for some people, the storm had an upside.

"We received an email from the company saying that the flight was canceled," said French tourists Sylvain and Marine Royer.

"So suddenly we can take in snow and New York for three more days!"

Rush on food

If there were people to be found, it was at the high-end grocery store Whole Foods Market, where many had assembled to grab last-minute supplies in case they were trapped in by the snow.

"I have nothing to eat, I need some food. Who knows if tomorrow I'm going to leave my house," said boutique worker Rosa Ramirez.

"What I do not know is how long I'll have to wait."

People grumbled and shivered as snow and icy wind gusts swirled around them.

A Whole Foods employee said they had a line outside the store all day.

"But it's moving quickly. So far we have enough stock for everybody," the worker said.

"Today we are closing at 8:00 pm, three hours earlier than usual, to ensure team members and shoppers can get home safe."

 

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