BOSTON (AP) — A behemoth storm packing hurricane-force wind gusts and blizzard conditions swept through the Northeast overnight, where more than 650,000 homes and businesses in the densely populated region lost power, roads were impassable and New Englanders awoke Saturday to more than 2 feet of snow.
More than 38 inches of snow fell in Milford in central Connecticut, and an 82-mph wind gust was recorded in nearby Westport. Areas of southeastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire notched at least 2 feet — with more falling. Airlines scratched more than 5,300 flights through Saturday, and the three major airports serving New York City as well as Boston's Logan Airport closed.
Flooding was also a concern along the coast. The possibility led to the evacuation of two neighborhoods in Quincy, Mass., south of Boston, and of 20 to 30 people in oceanfront homes in Salisbury in northeastern Massachusetts, authorities in those towns said. But it did not appear to create major problems in New York and New Jersey, states hit hardest during last October's Superstorm Sandy.
Snow piled up so high in some places Saturday that people couldn't open their doors to get outside. Streets were mostly deserted throughout New England save for plow crews and a few hardy souls walking dogs or venturing out to take pictures. In Boston's Financial District, the only sound was an army of snowblowers clearing sidewalks. Streets in many places were inaccessible.
Even the U.S. Postal Service closed post offices and suspended mail delivery Saturday in New England.
Some of the worst of the storm appeared to hit Connecticut, where all roads were ordered closed Saturday. The snow made travel nearly impossible even for emergency responders who found themselves stuck on highways all night. In the shoreline community of Fairfield, police and firefighters could not come in to work, so the overnight shift was staying on duty, said First Selectman Michael Tetreau.
"It's a real challenge out there," Tetreau said. "The roads are not passable at this point. We are asking everyone to stay home and stay safe."
Nearly 22 inches of snow fell in Boston and up to 3 feet was expected, the National Weather Service said, threatening the city's 2003 record of 27.6 inches. In the heavily Catholic city, the archdiocese urged parishioners to be prudent and reminded them that, under church law, the requirement to attend Sunday Mass "does not apply when there is grave difficulty in fulfilling this obligation."
Gov. Deval Patrick enacted a statewide driving ban for the first time since the Blizzard of '78, a ferocious storm that dropped 27 inches of snow, packed hurricane-force winds and claimed dozens of lives.
"This is crazy. I mean it's just nuts," said Eileen O'Brien, 56, of blacked-out Sagamore Beach, Mass., clearing heavy snow from her deck for fear it might collapse.
As the pirate flag outside her door snapped and popped in gale-force winds Saturday, she pointed to the snowman she'd built 16 hours earlier, when her mood and the snow were both lighter — and the Upper Cape village still had power.
"My thermostat keeps dropping. Right now it's 54 inside, and I don't have any wood," said O'Brien, a respiratory care practitioner. "There's nothing I can do to keep warm except maybe start the grill and make some coffee."
In downtown Topsfield, north of Boston, most stores were dark and blocked off by snowdrifts, but the convenience store where Kim Mitchell works was lit and shoveled out and had been open since 5 a.m. Mitchell, 48, lives in neighboring Ipswich but stayed overnight with a friend who lives within walking distance of the store so she could get to work.
One customer, Jack Donaher, general manager of a nearby farm and garden store, was buying coffee and pastries and headed back to keep clearing out the store lot for possible reopening Sunday. The weather and statewide driving ban had limited his workforce.
"One showed up," he said. "There was supposed to be four."
The wind-whipped snowstorm mercifully arrived at the start of a weekend, which meant fewer cars on the road and extra time for sanitation crews to clear the mess before commuters in the New York-to-Boston region of roughly 25 million people have to go back to work. But halfway through what had been a mild winter across the Northeast, it also could mean a weekend cooped up indoors.
Road conditions were awful in New Hampshire, said Jim Pierce, who works for the state transportation department and plows driveways in Concord and surrounding towns as a side business. He started plowing about 6:30 a.m.
"It takes quite a bit to push this back," he said. "It's fluffy, but there's a lot of it."
About 650,000 customers in the Northeast lost power during the height of the snowstorm, most of them in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, Mass., lost electricity and shut down Friday night during the storm. Authorities say there's no threat to public safety.
At least six deaths were blamed on the storm, including three in Canada. In southern Ontario, an 80-year-old woman collapsed while shoveling her driveway and two men were killed in car crashes. One pedestrian was struck by a vehicle and killed Friday night in Prospect, Conn., and a 23-year-old New York man plowing his driveway with a farm tractor went off the edge of the road and was killed, police in those states said.
Rhode Island's governor ordered residents to stay off the roads. Typically busy streets in Providence were empty Saturday as the wind blew snow into drifts that buried cars and parking lots. No injuries or significant accidents were reported on state highways, authorities said, though many cars will have to be dug out of snow drifts.
Several state police cars were also stuck in deep snow in Maine, where stranded drivers were warned to expect long waits for tow trucks or other assistance.
Early snowfall was blamed for a 19-car pileup Friday in Cumberland, Maine, that caused minor injuries. In New York, hundreds of cars got stuck on the Long Island Expressway on Friday, and dozens remained disabled early Saturday as police worked to free them.
A little more than 11 inches fell in New York City, but the city was "in great shape" Saturday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, and he said streets would be cleared by the end of the day.
Still, native New Yorker Efrain Burgos took no chances.
"I took the subway for the first time in 10 years," he said.
For Joe DeMartino, of Fairfield, Conn., being overprepared for the weather was impossible: His wife was expecting their first baby Sunday. He stocked up on gas and food, got firewood ready and was installing a baby seat in the car. The couple also packed for the hospital.
"They say that things should clear up by Sunday. We're hoping that they're right," he said.
Said his wife, Michelle: "It adds an element of excitement."
Associated Press writers John Christoffersen in Fairfield, Conn.; Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H.; Bill Kole in Sagamore Beach, Mass.; Samantha Critchell, Karen Matthews and Colleen Long in New York and Sylvia Wingfield in Boston contributed to this report.