Millions of Americans prepare to dig out after record-setting snowfall

NEW YORK -- Millions of Americans were preparing to dig themselves out Sunday after a mammoth blizzard with hurricane-force winds and record-setting snowfall brought much of the U.S.

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East Coast to an icy standstill.

Travel bans barring nonemergency vehicles from the roads of New York City and Baltimore were expected to be lifted by early morning, and mass transit systems that had been partially suspended during the storm were scheduled to run again.

But even as United Airlines said limited service might begin later in the afternoon in New York City, airports in the Washington D.C. area were likely to remain closed Sunday, and other airlines started to cut Monday service in addition to the 7,000 already-cancelled weekend flights.

The massive snowstorm brought both the nation's capital and its largest city to a stop, dumping as much as 3 feet (90 centimetres) of snow and stranding tens of thousands of travellers. At least 18 deaths were blamed on the weather, resulting from car crashes, shovelling snow and hypothermia.

The snow dropped 26.8 inches (68.1 centimetres) in Central Park, the second-most recorded since 1869. The snowfall narrowly missed tying the previous record of 26.9 inches (68.3 centimetres) set in February 2006. The snow finally stopped falling in New York City around 10 p.m. Saturday night, though authorities insisted people stay indoors and off the streets as crews plowed deserted roads and police set up checkpoints to catch violators.

The storm dropped snow from the Gulf Coast to New England, with areas of Washington surpassing 30 inches (76.2 centimetres). The heaviest unofficial report was in a rural area of West Virginia, not far from Harpers Ferry, with 40 inches (101.6 centimetre).

"This is kind of a Top 10 snowstorm," said weather service winter storm expert Paul Kocin, who co-wrote a two-volume textbook on blizzards.

The usually bustling New York City looked more like a ghost town. With Broadway shows dark, thin crowds shuffled through a different kind of Great White Way, the nickname for a section of the theatre district. And Bruce Springsteen cancelled Sunday's scheduled show at Madison Square Garden.

In Washington, monuments that would typically be busy with tourists stood vacant. All mass transit in the capital was to be shut down through Sunday.

Seventeen-year-old Alex Cruz, helping a neighbour shovel snow Saturday in Silver Spring, Maryland, couldn't help but notice the emptiness.

"It's like living out in the middle of Wyoming," he said.

Throughout the region, drivers skidded off snowy, icy roads in accidents that killed several people Friday and Saturday. Those killed included a 4-year-old boy in North Carolina; a Kentucky transportation worker who was plowing highways; and a woman whose car plunged down a 300-foot (91-meter) embankment in Tennessee. Three people died while shovelling snow in Queens and Staten Island.

An Ohio teenager sledding behind an all-terrain vehicle was hit by a truck and killed, and two people died of hypothermia in southwest Virginia. In North Carolina, a man whose car had veered off an icy-covered road was arrested on charges of killing a motorist who stopped to help.

In Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, drivers were marooned for hours in snow-choked highways.

Roofs collapsed on a historic theatre in Virginia and a horse barn in Maryland, while seaside towns in New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland grappled with flooding.

The snow was whipped into a maelstrom by winds that reached 75 mph (120 kph) at Dewey Beach, Delaware, and Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, the weather service said. From Virginia to New York, sustained winds topped 30 mph (48 kph) and gusted to around 50 mph (80 kph). And if that weren't enough, the storm also had bursts of thunder and lightning.

Stranded travellers included Defence Secretary Ash Carter, whose high-tech aircraft, the Doomsday Plane, couldn't land at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland after returning from Europe. Carter was rerouted to Tampa, Florida.

Associated Press writers William Mathis, Scott Mayerowitz and Jake Pearson in New York; Alex Brandon and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington; Jessica Gresko in Arlington, Virginia; Juliet Linderman in Baltimore; Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee; Claire Garofalo in Louisville, Kentucky; and John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia contributed to this report.


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