1 million homes without power in Northeast
A slow-moving winter storm smacked the Northeast on Friday, unleashing heavy snow, rain and hurricane-force winds as it knocked out power to more than a million homes and businesses. It turned Maine beachfront streets into rivers and piled on the misery in places hit by three major blizzards in less than a month.
Every form of travel was miserable if not impossible. More than 1,000 flights were canceled, bus service across northern New Jersey was knocked out and roads from Ohio to West Virginia to Maine were closed. State troopers used snowmobiles to reach motorists stranded for hours on an eastern New York highway.
“We’re buried,” said Graham Foster, highway superintendent in the town of Wappinger, one of the hardest hit areas in upstate New York. “My men have been out since 7 yesterday morning and we’re not making much headway because there are so many trees down and wires down.”
Foster, who was working on one hour of sleep Friday, said one of his big concerns was getting more diesel fuel for his constantly running plows. Many local gas pumps were inoperable because of widespread power outages.
Power failures were so severe and widespread in New Hampshire — 330,000 of the state’s roughly 800,000 customers — that even the state Emergency Operations Center was operating on a generator. Utility officials said it would take days for all those lights to flicker back on.
It was wind and rain rather than snow that wreaked havoc in that famously frigid state and its neighbor Maine. Parts of southern Maine were hit with more than 8 inches of rain.
Areas to the south, meanwhile, got their third heavy dumping of snow this month. Monroe, N.Y., received 31 inches, and New York City got more than 20.
A man was killed by a falling snow-laden tree branch in Central Park in New York City, one of at least three deaths being blamed on the storm.
Much of the region, particularly Philadelphia and southern New Jersey, only recently finished cleaning up from a pair of storms a few weeks ago.
Friday’s storm made February the snowiest month ever for New Brunswick, N.J.; it has gotten 37 inches so far. This had already been the snowiest winter for Philadelphia and Atlantic City, before the latest storm dropped another 4 to 5 inches by midmorning Friday.
Blowing, drifting snow blinded and stranded drivers in mountainous parts of West Virginia, shutting down countless roads, and National Guard troops were mobilized to help. It was bad enough that mail service was suspended in six counties.
“The drifts are 15 feet deep over the roads, and highways can’t move fast enough to keep them open,” said Marvin Hill, emergency manager for Randolph County.
Even skiers in the area got bad news. Snowshoe Mountain Resort had boasted the best conditions in its 36-year history this week, but a jackknifed tractor-trailer blocked the only road in Friday.
The highest wind reported was 91 mph off Portsmouth, N.H. — well above hurricane force of 74 mph. Gusts also hit 60 mph or more from the mountains of West Virginia to New York’s Long Island and Massachusetts.
In Epping, N.H., howling winds crashed a tree onto Joe and Laurie Mantini’s rural home late Thursday night; another tree crushed their parked recreational trailer. On Friday, a tarp covered the right side of their home as a contractor and an insurance adjuster were at work.
“Luckily nobody was hurt,” said Laurie Mantini, 38. “I don’t know what we’re going to do tonight.”
In the coastal town of Hampton, N.H., the unoccupied Surf Hotel caught fire, and the howling winds quickly spread the blaze to the rest of the block. Five wood-frame buildings, including an arcade and a restaurant, burned. The cause was unknown.
Downed trees were scattered along a residential street in Hampton, including an oak that punched a hole in the summer cottage Dick Paquin had just renovated last year. The 62-year-old semiretired consultant from Raymond was on the roof with a chain saw trying to clear the branches.
“You feel so helpless,” Paquin said.
In Maine, waves crashing ashore at high tide Friday morning flooded streets in Saco, where storms have claimed several homes over the years.
“Felt like the walls were coming in on the house, and the windows were rattling, and the trees were cracking. It was pretty impressive,” said Mark Breton, who rode out the storm in his house a few blocks from the beach.
Water from a storm-swollen pond was spilling over a 300-year-old dam in Freetown, Mass.; about a dozen people were advised to temporarily leave their homes as a precaution.
At the peak of the outages early Friday, there were 260,000 customers without power in Connecticut, and 220,000 customers in New York, mostly in the Hudson Valley north of New York City. There were 140,000 in Maine, 100,000 in Massachusetts, 25,000 in Vermont, and 11,000 in New Jersey. Those numbers began falling Friday as crews got to work, in some places contending with toppled trees and deep snow that made it difficult to move around.
Thousands of schools were closed, including in New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg acquiesced after vowing to keep them open.
About 1,000 flights were canceled in Boston, Philadelphia and the New York area, according to the Air Transport Association. But by late morning, things began clearing up to the south, with three of Philadelphia International Airport’s four runways open.
The weather snarled traffic across the Northeast, including on some major highways. A tractor-trailer jackknifed and as many as 20 trucks piled up on a mile of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, forcing closure of a 60-mile stretch in the hills of central Pennsylvania. Two injuries were reported.
Public transit also was a rough ride. Rail service in New Jersey and Long Island was suspended or delayed, and New Jersey Transit has canceled morning buses that tens of thousands of people rely on to get to New York City.
In New York, a nearly 40-mile stretch of snow-clogged Interstate 84 was closed for about five hours. State police and emergency responders used snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles Friday morning to reach stranded motorists. There were no reports of serious injuries, a fact state Trooper John Gero in East Fishkill credited to the heavy snow.
“I don’t think they can go fast enough to get hurt,” he said.