Snow falls in front of the US Capitol building in Washington, DC yesterday.
WASHINGTON: A major storm packing heavy snow and ice plowed into the eastern United States yesterday, leaving at least 10 dead, widespread road accidents and hundreds of thousands of people without power.
The storm wrapped Washington DC in deep, fluffy snow, closing much of the federal government, and blotted visibility in New York City, which braced for a treacherous commute.
“Because of its timing and intensity, this storm is going to make both the morning and evening rush hours extremely difficult”, said Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday night.
Forecasts predicted 8 to 14 inches in the city. Thousands of travellers were stranded as flights, including at major air hubs in Atlanta and New York, were cancelled, and nearly 800,000 homes and businesses lost power, mainly in Georgia and North and South Carolina.
The latest brutal freeze to hammer the eastern states of the country since the start of the year has been dubbed “snowmaggedon,” “mind-boggling” and “historic” by major television networks and forecasters.
CNN put the overall death toll at least 10. CBS News said that at least 11 deaths had been blamed on the ferocious conditions. As the storm moved north, the US National Weather Service warned that the “mammoth dome” of Arctic air would cut a wide swath of winter weather from Georgia to New England.
Moisture from the Atlantic “will continue to fuel widespread precipitation,” it said. Sleet and freezing rain were expected to set up along I-95, the major interstate highway that runs the length of the eastern seaboard. “This storm is dangerous,” said North Carolina governor Pat McCrory. “Road conditions are treacherous in many areas.”
Massive traffic jams from snow slicked roads made evening commutes in the South agonizing, hours-long affairs with the usually temperate cities of Raleigh and Charlotte transformed into ice- and snow-covered parking lots.
Hundreds of traffic accidents were reported in the Carolinas and Georgia, where frozen roads hampered emergency response efforts.
Earlier, US President Barack Obama had declared states of emergency in Georgia and South Carolina in order to deploy federal resources to help deal with the frigid storm. North Carolina’s McCrory urged residents to stay indoors — even if meant sleeping at work — rather than risk the treacherous roads.
“If you’re in a safe warm place, stay in a safe warm place,” McCrory told CNN. “We’ve already had two fatalities and we don’t want to see more.”
Specialty website FlightAware said airlines cancelled at least 3,700 flights on Wednesday and had already shelved 5,500 yesterday, including many flights to and from New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Washington.
The US capital’s downtown was a virtual ghost town yesterday morning. Most buses were not running and subway cars nearly empty. As the snow started blowing in overnight, temperatures hovered around minus 3 C but the bracing winds making it feel more like 15 degrees, forecasters said.
The White House cancelled its daily news briefing, and federal agencies told workers to stay home. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said it was in contact with state emergency offices in densely populated Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia to assess their assistance needs as the storm builds.
In addition to the FEMA aid, various localities across the region had readied emergency shelters at churches and recreation centres where residents could stay warm should they lose power. The severe weather has also been playing havoc with US businesses and governments’ bottom line.