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Battered US east coast digs out in time for more snow

February 08, 2010

The US east coast braced Monday for a new storm after record snowfall left thousands of people shivering in the dark without power, transportation paralyzed and the federal government shut down.

The US capital remained largely snow-locked, while many local governments, businesses and schools were also shuttered across the mid-Atlantic region.

People struggled to get to work, slipping on icy sidewalks and spinning wheels on snow-trapped smaller cars, as hundreds of emergency personnel battled to clear roads of snow that kept vehicles, trains and planes simply stuck.

Roofs collapsed under the weight of the white stuff, including at a firehouse in northern Virginia.

Many of those without power gathered in restaurants and coffee shops on major avenues where power often was restored first, some residents of suburban Washington spending two days huddled at businesses, unable to go home.

Snow clearing crews drove in to the are from states several hours away by car, as did reinforcements to exhausted and overwhelmed power company crews.

Residents had little hope of respite from the icy, sometimes slushy mess, with another storm expected to dump five or more inches (13 centimeters) of snow on the area late Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

"We have a (new) winter storm watch out. We are expecting in excess of five inches in 12 hours, mainly Tuesday night into Wednesday," NWS forecaster Matther Kramer told AFP.

Kramer said Washington and Baltimore to the northeast stood to get "enhanced" snow accumulations.

"People need to anticipate this especially because they are just digging out from the other one," he warned, noting that the worst of the coming storm may hit northeastern New England states.

Freezing temperatures overnight turned plowed roads and highways into icy rinks, with dangerous black ice forming in some areas.

Many secondary roads and thoroughfares were unplowed, and officials warned that travel was still hazardous.

Despite far lighter traffic than usual for a Monday, the treacherous conditions and numerous accidents slowed down the morning commute, even on main roadways.

"This is really challenging for us, and will continue to be a challenge for most of the week," said Laura Southard from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

With record snowfall of more than three feet (a meter) in many places across Virginia, Maryland and the US capital, bulldozers were moving 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.

Even though the blizzard has moved away, unmasking a bright blue sky, it continued to claim victims.

Two men were found dead in a car Sunday in the town of Bladensburg, Maryland, The Washington Post reported.

Authorities believe they suffered carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of sitting in a closed vehicle without ventilation.

Six other people who appeared to be victims of carbon monoxide poisoning were rescued Sunday at a house in the Washington suburb Oxon Hill, the paper said.

The culprit appeared to have been a gasoline generator used inside a house after the power went out.

The deepest snow left by "Snowmageddon" was in the small town of Colesville, central Maryland, which was buried in 40 inches (101 centimeters) of snow, the National Weather Service said.

Service slowly resumed to Metro trains, although above-ground rail travel remained suspended, depriving people in the suburbs of their main means of commute. Bus service was cancelled, and then limited.

Washington's Reagan National Airport was closed for snow and ice removal, though airport officials said they expected to resume operations later in the day. Other local airports were open, although officials warned that some flights may be canceled or delayed.

Virginia police had responded to more than 4,370 calls, mostly involving traffic accidents or stranded cars.

"Progress is being made, but it's going to take a couple more days at least, but even then we can't make any promises," Southard added.

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

But life was gradually returning to normal as residents dug out cars and cleared driveways. Some stores and coffee shops reopened after a rare shutdown.

The weekend's heavy snowfall was the second massive storm to hit the region this winter after a December storm dumped some two feet (61 centimeters) of snow in the area.

"We are getting a lot of winter fatigue around here now," Ed McDonough, spokesman for the Maryland emergency management center, said ruefully as he pulled up outside his snow-bound driveway after a 24-hour shift.

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