Snow storm causes travel chaos, closes government on US east coast

Weather service describes storm as event of ‘historical proportions’

Pedestrians cross Seventh Avenue as snow falls in New York on Thursday, February 13th. A state of emergency has been declared in the state.  Photograph: Peter Foley/EPA

Pedestrians cross Seventh Avenue as snow falls in New York on Thursday, February 13th. A state of emergency has been declared in the state. Photograph: Peter Foley/EPA

 

Heavy snow blanketed the north-eastern United States, disrupting travel for hundreds of thousands of people, shutting down the government and making roads treacherous from the Carolinas up to Maine.

Up to 19 inches of snow fell in parts as the storm that pummelled Atlanta and Charlotte in the southeast moved up the east coast of the country. More than 770,000 people were left without power across 14 states, mostly in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

More than 100 million Americans, about a third of the country’s population, in 22 states in the south and mid-Atlantic region, were under some form of official winter storm warning.

Described by National Weather Service as an event of “historical proportions”, the storm was one of the worst to affect Atlanta, the biggest city in the south, since 1973.

The adverse weather led President Barack Obama to declare a state of emergency in parts of Georgia and the state of South Carolina to release federal aid to help the storm-stricken areas.

At least 15 deaths in the south were blamed on the weather, including two in Georgia, two in North Carolina and three in Carlsbad, Texas, when an ambulance driver lost control of the vehicle on ice.

Hazardous roads around Raleigh, North Carolina, trapped drivers in long traffic jams and led some to abandon their vehicles repeating scenes witnessed in a snowy Atlanta just two weeks ago. Motorways across Georgia, including the US-1 interstate that runs north to south along the eastern seaboard, were closed because of ice and fallen power lines, the state’s transportation department said.

The weather led to the cancellation of more than 5,500 flights yesterday, adding to more than 3,000 cancellations the previous day, according to flight tracker FlightAware.

At least 2,300 flights were cancelled at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport, the world’s busiest in terms of passenger numbers.

Rail company Amtrak suspended the number of trains running along the busy corridor from Washington DC to Boston and cancelled some services in the south.

About five inches of snow fell in two hours in New York’s Central Park, which has recorded 41.5 inches of snow so far this year, almost 26 inches more than the average snowfall over the past 30 years.

The governors of New York, Andrew Cuomo, and New Jersey, Chris Christie, declared a state of emergency in their states.

Mr Christie told New Jersey residents it “might be a day to stay inside and stay warm and not worry about travelling around the roads too much”.

About a foot of snow fell overnight in Washington DC, virtually shutting down the city as federal government offices and schools were closed and Dulles and Reagan national airports cancelled all flights.

Up to 19 inches of snow were recorded in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

For parts of the US this winter has been the coldest in a generation as this week’s storm follows last month’s “polar vortex” that sent air temperatures to their lowest levels in almost two decades.