By Barbara Goldberg
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. East Coast was blasted by the end of a four-day winter storm on Friday, freezing sales of Valentine's Day flowers and sweets but revving up snowmobiles and ski areas desperate to salvage a lackluster season.
As the storm blew out with a last salvo of thunder snow and lightning, the death toll rose to at least 20, including a 36-year-old pregnant woman killed by a snow plow in a Brooklyn parking lot. Her baby boy remained in critical but stable condition, a New York City Police spokeswoman said.
Snowfall measured 28.5 inches in Pilot, Virginia, about 200 miles west of Richmond, said Chris Vaccaro, spokesman for the National Weather Service. A new storm system was on its way, expected to dump up to 3 inches on the East Coast into Saturday, he said.
Across the South, hundreds of thousands of people were still without power on Friday as the result of broken tree limbs stressed by heavy snow and thick layers of ice falling onto power lines. South Carolina customers may not be back to normal service until late Sunday, said Duke Energy spokeswoman Jennifer Jabon.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike was shut for more than seven hours while it was cleared of twisted metal from up to 50 vehicles in multiple accidents that injured 27 people, said Renee Vid Colborn, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. The injuries were not life-threatening, she said.
About 1,700 U.S. flights were canceled and roughly 6,600 were delayed on Friday, said flight-tracking website FlightAware.com.
The heavy snow this winter has depleted U.S. stocks of road salt, and Connecticut, hit by 12 storms, requested federal assistance to help make up its shortfall.
In New Jersey, more than a foot of snow caused roofs to collapse at a sports complex in Waldwick and at a supermarket in New Milford, authorities said.
'AS GOOD AS IT GETS'
But outdoor enthusiasts like dog-sled guide Laura Bedortha of Husky Works Mushing Co in West Wardsboro, Vermont, were gratified by the weather.
In Jackman, Maine, up near the Canadian border, Bishop's Store welcomed a steady stream of snowmobilers lining up for gas and breakfast sandwiches.
"This storm couldn't have come at a better time," said owner Lorraine Levesque.
The $350 million snowmobile industry, which also does its part to fill hotel beds and restaurants, desperately needed the snow in a winter marked by freeze-thaw cycles in January and more rain than snow.
"This is as good as it gets before the vacation week," said Bob Meyers, spokesman for the Maine Snowmobile Association, referring to the Presidents Day holiday on Monday.
His sentiments were echoed in the online ski report posted by The Waterville Valley Resort in New Hampshire: "Forget whatever it was you were supposed to do this weekend and make your way up here."
Snow days for schoolchildren troubled parents scrambling for childcare and school administrators who had to look at ways to extend the calendar into summer to make up for lost classroom time.
The white stuff made Valentine's Day gift vendors see red. The number of flower deliveries that Luis Martinez made for employer Langdon Florist in downtown Manhattan was slashed in half compared with last year.
"Business is down because of the weather," he said, navigating pools of melting snow while carrying a bouquet of roses.
Darryl Rallis, 49, a third-generation wholesale flower vendor in New York, estimated he had sold a quarter of the flowers he normally sells on Valentine's Day, typically the year's biggest single day sales for florists, according to the Wholesale Flowers and Florists Association.
The chill was felt all the way to Colombia and Ecuador, which are the major suppliers for Cupid in America.
"The problem is Washington and places like that, which are affected by consumers' staying indoors," said Jairo Cadavid, spokesman for the Association of Colombian Flower Exporters, Asocolflores.
Valentine's Day flower exports to the United States from Ecuador are down between 12 percent and 14 percent from last year, said a spokesman for the Association of Flower Producers and Exporters, Expoflores.
Flour was flying at Carlo's Bakery in Hoboken, made famous by the popular American reality show Cake Boss, as bakers scrambled to meet requests for sweet stuff a day after the storm closed all of its four locations.
"We're working twice as hard today to meet the demands of yesterday," said bakery spokesman Adam Bourcier.
Friday's blue skies and temperatures in the 40s in the New York City area belied a previous night of thunder snow and electrical storms in New Jersey. A bolt of lightning struck a Spirit Airlines plane flying from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but it was able to land safely at its destination, Atlantic City International Airport, said airline spokesman Jim Lynde.
In Georgia, it was estimated that 5 million of the state's 25 million acres of forestland were damaged by the storm, said James Johnson, forest management chief with the Georgia Forestry Commission.
(Additional reporting by Chris Francescani and Marina Lopes in New York, Dave Sherwood in Maine, Daniel Kelley in Pennsylvania, David Jones in New Jersey, Karen Brooks in Texas, Harriet McLeod in South Carolina, Richard Weizel in Connecticut, David Beasley in Georgia, Colleen Jenkins in North Carolina, Peter Murphy in Colombia and Alexandra Valencia in Ecuador; Editing by Gunna Dickson and Prudence Crowther)