PROVIDENCE, R.I. — New Englanders began digging out from as much as 3 feet of snow Saturday, and emergency crews used snowmobiles to reach motorists stranded overnight on New York’s Long Island after a howling storm swept through the Northeast.
About 650,000 homes and businesses were left without electricity, and some could be cold and dark for days. Roads across the New York-to-Boston corridor of roughly 25 million people were impassable. Cars were entombed by drifts. Some people found the wet, heavy snow packed so high against their homes they couldn’t get their doors open.
“It’s like lifting cement. They say it’s 2 feet, but I think it’s more like 3 feet,” said Michael Levesque, who was shoveling snow in Quincy, Mass., for a landscaping company.
In Providence, the drifts were 5 feet high and telephone lines encrusted with ice and snow drooped under the weight. Jason Harrison labored for nearly three hours to clear his blocked driveway and front walk and still had more work to do. His snowblower, he said, “has already paid for itself.”
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The storm, spawned by the collision of two weather systems, caused at least five deaths. One case involved a 14-year-old boy shoveling snow with his father in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, who died from carbon-monoxide poisoning after he retreated inside a car to warm up. The exhaust pipe was blocked by snow.
Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee cautioned that while the snow had stopped, the danger hadn’t passed: “People need to take this storm seriously, even after it’s over. If you have any kind of heart condition, be careful with the shoveling.”
Blowing with hurricane-force winds of more than 80 mph in places, the storm hit hard along the heavily populated Interstate 95 corridor between New York City and Maine. Milford., Conn., got 38 inches of snow, and Portland, Maine, recorded 31.9, shattering a 1979 record. Several communities in New York and across New England got more than 2 feet.
Still, the storm was not as bad as some of the forecasts led many to fear, and not as dire as the Blizzard of ’78, used by longtime New Englanders as the benchmark by which all other winter storms are measured.
By midday Saturday, the National Weather Service reported preliminary snowfall totals of 24.9 inches in Boston, fifth on the city’s all-time list. Bradley International Airport near Hartford, Conn., got 22 inches, for the No. 2 spot in the record books there.
Concord, N.H., got 24 inches of snow, the second-highest amount on record and a few inches short of the reading from the great Blizzard of 1888.
In New York, Central Park recorded 11 inches, not even enough to make the Top 10 list. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city “dodged a bullet” and its streets were “in great shape.” The three major airports — LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark Liberty in New Jersey — were up and running by late morning after shutting down the evening before.
The National Weather Service received reports of flooding up and down the Massachusetts coast, especially in areas just north and south of Boston. Water carrying slabs of ice sloshed through the streets and lapped against houses. The National Guard was sent to assist in evacuations.
Waves off the South Shore of Boston and parts of Cape Cod measured as high as 20 feet. Two feet of water was observed in Winthrop, just north of Boston. Waters breached a seawall in Scituate, while roads in Gloucester, Marblehead and Revere were reported flooded or impassable.
Most power outages were in Massachusetts, where more than 400,000 homes and businesses were left in the dark. In Rhode Island, a peak of about 180,000 customers lost power, about one-third of the state.
By nightfall, utility crews were making progress. By late Saturday night, power was restored for some 92,000 customers in Massachusetts and 51,000 in Rhode Island.
Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island imposed travel bans until 4 p.m. to keep cars off the road and let plows do their work, and the National Guard helped clear highways in Connecticut, where more than 240 auto accidents were reported. The Guardsmen rescued about 90 motorists, including a few who had hypothermia and were taken to hospitals.
In the New York metropolitan area, many victims of Hurricane Sandy were spared another round of flooding, property damage and power failures.
“I was very lucky and I never even lost power,” said Susan Kelly of Bayville. “We were dry as anything. My new roof was fantastic. Other than digging out, this storm was a nice storm.” As for the shoveling, “I got two hours of exercise.”
At New York’s Fashion Week, women tottered on 4-inch heels through the snow to get to the tents to see designers’ newest collections.
Across much of New England, streets were empty of cars and dotted instead with children who had never seen so much snow and were jumping into snowbanks and making forts. Snow was waist-high in the streets of Boston. Plows made some thoroughfares passable but piled even more snow on cars parked on the city’s narrow streets.
Boston’s Logan Airport was still closed late Saturday.
Life went on as usual for some. In Portland, Maine, Karen Willis Beal got her dream wedding Saturday — complete with a snowstorm just like the one that hit before her parents married in December 1970.
“I have always wanted a snowstorm for my wedding, and my wish has come true to the max,” she said.
In Massachusetts, the National Guard and Worcester emergency workers teamed up to deliver a baby at the height of the storm at the family’s home. Everyone was fine.
Material from The New York Times is included in this report.