A huge blizzard dumped a blanket of thick snow over the US east coast, paralysing the region and snapping power lines to thousands of people as hazardous roads killed at least two.
The monster storm, dubbed ‘Snowpocalypse’ and ‘Snowmageddon’, stretched thousands of miles from eastern Indiana into Pennsylvania and then down through Maryland as far south as North Carolina.
With winds gusting at almost 90km per hour, many places had already accumulated more than 60cm of snow by late on Saturday morning, as trees toppled bringing down power lines and barring roads.
Even US President Barack Obama awoke to find 10in covering the White House, and his flashy motorcade, which usually speeds through the capital, was seen moving very slowly on empty Washington streets after he gave a speech to his Democratic Party.
Forecasters warned residents to hunker down, with no let-up in the weather for most of the day. They predicted a record-breaking, historic total snowfall in some places of 36in.
“It’s pretty rough out there,” Ed McDonough from the Maryland Emergency Management Agency said.
“The roads are very difficult to travel … and we are seeing a spike in power outages. We are telling local residents to stay home, enjoy the time with their families and let the highway crews do their work.”
Emergency crews struggled to repair the power outages, which have left 150,000 people in the dark and under blankets at home in Maryland alone.
“We have a lot of scattered outages and the road conditions are not really working with us,” admitted Pepco spokesman Andre Francis, pleading for patience as some customers were told the blackouts could last days.
Some 200 National Guardsmen had been deployed across Maryland, while in Virginia police confirmed that a father and son were killed on Friday when they stopped to help a stranded car.
“Virginia state police are working numerous traffic crashes and responding to multiple disabled vehicles as the winter storm makes its way across” the state, the police said in a statement.
In the normally bustling capital, the streets had been transformed into a deserted winter wonderland on Saturday as workers with snow-blowers struggled to clear the sidewalks.
IT’S SO FUN
But some people were enjoying the city’s transformation.
Alix Lawe, who works with the US Air Force, was out for a run in the snow, said: “It’s so fun. I’m from Florida, I’ve never seen so much snow.”
And a German woman, was also out exercising wearing snowshoes, after she failed to buy cross-country skis as they were all sold out.
“I was being paranoid staying at home,” she said, casually sipping coffee.
Snow ploughs were out trying to keep emergency routes and main highways clear, but most officials said it would take days to reach the smaller streets, and warned of a difficult Monday morning commute.
The National Weather Service (NWS) has put the Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area under a rare 24-hour blizzard warning.
All flights out of the capital’s Reagan National airport were cancelled, along with most flights out of Dulles International Airport in Virginia, while there was a limited service at Baltimore.
A hangar roof collapsed at the Dulles Jet Centre early on Saturday according to Rob Yengling, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority spokesman. Five people spending the night inside to shelter from the storm escaped without injuries.
The snowfall may shatter Washington’s 88-year-old record snowfall of 28 inches in the 1922 “Great Knickerbocker Storm,” when the Knickerbocker Theatre collapsed killing nearly 100 people.
The capital’s subway system has shut down 40 above ground stations, meaning transport links between Washington and its heavily-populated suburbs were snapped with most major roads impassable, knocking out bus services.
The governors of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware have declared states of emergency, a move that puts the National Guard on alert. While in Delaware all vehicles were ordered off the roads.
But some people were preparing to enjoy the winter’s second biggest storm in the area, with plans for a mass snowball fight in central Washington shaping up.
© 2008 Australian Broadcasting Corporation