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Sarah Karush, Associated Press Writer, Published December 20 2009

Winter storm slams East, cripples travel

WASHINGTON – A blizzard-like storm rocked the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast on Saturday, crippling travel across the region and causing hundreds of thousands of power outages.

Five deaths appeared to have been caused by the storm system, which stretched from the Carolinas north to New England and also spread into some Midwestern states. The 14 inches of snow that fell at Reagan National Airport outside Washington was the most ever recorded for a single December day, while about 9 inches had fallen in Philadelphia.

Those who did venture out were treated to nearly desolate stores on what is usually one of the busiest shopping days of the year. There were virtually no lines to get a picture with a mall Santa on the last weekend before Christmas.

The National Guard used Humvees to rescue stranded motorists in Virginia, and some 500 people had sought warmth and refuge in emergency shelters.

“The snow has not stopped falling, the storm isn’t over, and folks should not think this is crying wolf,” said Laura Southard, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

More than 2 feet of snow fell in some areas since Friday, and the nation’s capital was under a blizzard warning. Public transportation nearly ground to a halt, but it wasn’t enough to keep senators from staying in session to debate health care reform.

The slow-moving storm was headed to the Northeast, where forecasters said parts of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachussetts could see more than 16 inches by tonight. Forecasters expected the storm to drop as many as 10 inches on New York City.

Snowplows cleared the runway at Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Washington as President Barack Obama returned from climate talks in Copenhagen. The White House said Obama rode in a motorcade back to the White House, instead of taking his helicopter, because of the conditions.

The region was virtually a sea of white. The Smithsonian Institution closed its museums, and the National Mall, which normally would be swarming with tourists, instead was the scene of snowball fights and cross-country skiers.

For Chris and Kelly Fitzpatrick, who were visiting from Clearwater, Fla., the winter wonderland came at the perfect time.

“It’s her fault that we’re out so long. She wants to walk and walk and walk,” said Chris Fitzpatrick, 38.

In western Virginia, officials said several hundred motorists became stranded and had to be rescued by four-wheel-drive vehicles.

“Some folks have decided to stay in vehicles, others have been taken to shelters,” said Virginia Department of Emergency Management spokesman Bob Spieldenner. “We’re definitely trying to keep people off the roads.”

Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said traffic was moving, though slowly. There were reports of jackknifed tractor-trailers and some semis on their sides. Troopers had responded to more than 4,000 traffic crashes and disabled vehicles.

One person in Virginia was killed in a traffic accident caused by slick roads, and authorities said the weather may have contributed to another traffic death. A third death is believed to have been caused by exposure. In Ohio, two people were killed in accidents on snow-covered roads hit by the same storm system.


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