US blizzard 'Snowzilla' kills 25, Washington DC struggles to rebound

AFP , Monday 25 Jan 2016

The 26.8 inches (68 centimeters) of snow that fell in New York's Central Park was the second-highest accumulation since records began in 1869

A worker cleans the sidewalk from a snow along 19th street in Washington on January 24, 2016 (Photo: AFP)

The eastern United States emerged wearily from a massive blizzard that dumped huge amounts of snow and killed at least 25 people, but Washington was still reeling, with government offices and schools to remain closed Monday.

The storm -- dubbed "Snowzilla" -- walloped a dozen states from Friday into early Sunday, affecting an estimated 85 million residents who were told to stay indoors and off the roads for their own safety.

The 26.8 inches (68 centimeters) of snow that fell in New York's Central Park was the second-highest accumulation since records began in 1869, and more than 22 inches paralyzed the capital Washington.

Near-record-breaking snowfall was recorded in other cities up and down the East Coast, with Philadelphia and Baltimore also on the receiving end of some of the worst that Mother Nature could fling at them.

But as the storm ended and temperatures rose, New York emerged from total shutdown and lifted a sweeping travel ban. Roads were reopened throughout the city, on Long Island and in New Jersey.

Thousands of people flocked to parks, tobogganing, organizing snowball fights and strapping on cross-country skis, as children delighted in a winter wonderland under glorious sunshine.

Broadway resumed shows, which were canceled on Saturday, and museums reopened, as snow plows quickly cleared the main avenues and temperatures hovered at about 32 degrees Fahrenheit (zero Celsius).

Jessica Edwards, a filmmaker from Canada, joined in the fun, pulling four-year-old daughter Hazel down a hill on a sled in a New York park.

"Oh my God, she's so excited -- we left the house this morning and we packed a bunch of stuff to make a snowman," she told AFP.

But as the storm-related death toll rose, authorities advised caution despite the picture postcard scenes outside.

"We urge all New Yorkers not to travel on our roads except when necessary, and to be extremely careful when driving," Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference.

"Our tireless sanitation workers are out in full force and we must give them space to clear the roads. If you go outside, use caution and stay alert for ice and cold temperatures," he added.

In the nation's capital, which is not as adept at handling winter weather as the Big Apple, authorities struggled to get the city back up and running.

Major roads were clear downtown, but side streets were still piled high with snow. Public schools were to remain closed and only limited public transportation was to resume Monday.

Metro fares were to be waived as trains would begin running only every 20-25 minutes, and only at underground stations on three of the city's six lines. Only a few key bus lines were to be in operation Monday from 12-5 pm.

Limited flight operations were to resume from Washington's Reagan National and Dulles International airports on Monday, a day after officials battled in New York to get some aircraft off the ground.

Among those whose travel was disrupted by the blizzard was Vice President Joe Biden, whose airplane made an unscheduled detour to warm and sunny Miami as he traveled from meetings in Turkey early Sunday, unable to land in snowed-under Washington.

The White House says Biden will now depart Miami Monday for his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.

The House of Representatives meanwhile, has opted to remain out of session for the coming week due to the severity of the winter storm and related travel woes -- with no votes set until February 1.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said while there had been "a lot of progress" Sunday, there would be no trash collection on Monday and Tuesday, and urged people to keep vehicles off the roads for at least another 24 hours.

"We expect that with the temperature dropping tonight and for every night this week, that we will see continued slick and dangerous roadways," she told a news conference.

"We want to have tomorrow to continue to keep cars off the road so that we can clear those major arteries and also clear the places where many people who come to our downtown would normally park."

Beyond the Big Apple and the US capital, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia were the hardest-hit areas. A few locations surpassed one-day and two-day snow records, said the National Weather Service.

The fatalities occurred in Arkansas, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina and Virginia.

In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie, a Republican presidential contender who left the campaign trail to oversee the emergency response in his state, asked people to take care.

"This is very heavy snow so I ask that they please be careful as they clean up their own property today or their businesses," he said.

Many of the storm-related deaths were people who suffered heart attacks while shoveling.

Hundreds of thousands were left without power at the height of the storm, including nearly 150,000 outages in North Carolina alone, emergency officials said.

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