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Battered US east coast digs out, more snow coming

February 07, 2010

Hundreds of emergency crews battled Sunday to clear snow-clogged roads and restore power to thousands of homes across the US east coast before a new storm hits, aided by some welcome winter sun.

An early morning freeze, which had turned partially cleared highways into icy skating rinks, gave way to warmer temperatures helping the big melt to get under way, but officials warned travel was still hazardous.

"This is really challenging for us, and will continue to be a challenge for most of the week," said Laura Southard from the Virginia emergency management center, highlighting that another storm is due to hit the region late Tuesday.

With record snowfall of more than three feet (a meter) in many places after a monster blizzard swept across Virginia, Maryland and the nation's capital, bulldozers were having to move in.

"This snow is so deep and so heavy that the traditional snow plows can't shovel in some areas. So bulldozers are physically having to lift it up and away," Southard told AFP.

The record snowfall for a storm dubbed "Snowmageddon" was registered in a small town of Colesville, central Maryland which was blanketed by 40 inches (101 centimeters), the National Weather Center said.

Virginia police had turned out to more than 4,370 calls, with most being traffic crashes or stranded cars. It is believed only three people died though as a result of the storm.

Hundreds of thousands of people spent a chilly night with candles and hunkered under blankets without power, although crews working round-the-clock did manage to restore electricity to many homes.

But by early Sunday more than 200,000 power outages in Virginia and Maryland had yet to be repaired amid fears it could take several days to reach all the affected homes and businesses.

Many residents across the region were beginning to try to dig out cars, and clear paths, while officials warned not to let children play in the huge piles left by snow plows in case drivers failed to spot them.

In another sign that life was beginning to get back to normal after the nation's capital was crippled by the monster storm, some stores and coffee shops were beginning to gradually reopen after a rare shutdown.

Transportation systems from the capital's outlying suburbs remained snapped, with no overground metro trains running and no buses.

Reagan domestic airport was still closed Sunday, and there was little likelihood of flights out of the international airports at Baltimore, or Dulles, bogged down by a record 32.4 inches (82 centimeters) of snow.

Schools were to remain closed on Monday and Tuesday across most of the region.

In a further blow, officials urged sports fans against going to Super Bowl parties later Sunday -- an annual highlight of the social calendar when friends gather to cheer on teams in the National Football League Championship.

"Traditionally it's a really big day, Super Bowl Sunday, but I would encourage people to stay home," said Ed McDonough, spokesman for the Maryland emergency management center.

"It is still well below freezing. A little sun and some sand will help, but we are not going to get a lot of melt. There's another storm going and we're not going to be out of the woods for a while."

He advised commuters to start digging out their cars in preparation for Monday morning's commuter which could also prove difficult.

But there were also warnings against over-exertion.

"Heart attacks from shoveling heavy snow are a leading cause of deaths during winter," Montgomery County said in an text message alert, saying the cold weather put extra strain on the body.

It was the second massive storm to hit the region after a December storm dumped some two feet of snow in the area.

And forecasters warned yet another front was moving across from the west coast, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a winter storm watch around the capital from Tuesday afternoon until Wednesday afternoon. Related article: Monster US storm boon for forecasters: expert

"We are getting a lot of winter fatigue around here now," McDonough told AFP ruefully, as he pulled up outside his snow-bound driveway after a 24-hour shift.


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