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U.S. Northeast battles through yet another winter storm

Source: Reuters - Thu, 6 Feb 2014 10:48 GMT
Author: Reuters
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(Adds death in Chicago area)

By Scott Malone and Victoria Cavaliere

BOSTON/NEW YORK, Feb 6 (Reuters) - The latest in a rapid succession of brutal winter storms hit the United States on Wednesday, cutting power to over a million homes and businesses and playing havoc with road and air transport links.

The snow and ice storms in the country's Northeast triggered states of emergency in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and some districts reported stocks of the salt used to keep roads ice-free were running low.

The hardest-hit state was Pennsylvania, where 849,000 customers were without electricity at one point, according to the governor. By 8 p.m. local time (0100 GMT Thursday), the figure was just over 625,000, said Cory Angell, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

In all, over a million Northeast homes and businesses were cut off, according to local power companies.

Throughout the United States, 2,893 flights were canceled on Wednesday, according to FlightAware.com, an online flight tracking site.

In the Northeast, roughly half the departing flights were canceled out of Newark Liberty International, LaGuardia in New York and Boston's Logan International, FlightAware said.

Snow continued to fall in patches along the East Coast, but by early on Thursday the storm looked to have largely run its course, a forecaster at the National Weather Service said.

SALT SHORTAGE

In some areas, stocks of rock salt run down during the season's series of heavy storms were almost depleted, with officials in New York and New Jersey as well as commercial suppliers saying they were running short.

"We have a salt shortage for some parts of the state, primarily New York City and the Long Island area, because there have been so many storms this season already," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters on a conference call. "The state does have a significant amount of salt on hand. We'll be shipping that salt around the state."

Neighboring New Jersey reported a similar shortage.

"We've had so many storms, one after another, that it definitely has put a very significant demand on salt," said Joe Dee, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.

"Our supplies are dwindling (though) we have plenty for this storm."

As of Jan. 26, New Jersey had spent $60 million on snow removal, putting it on track to break the record of $62.5 million spent last year, Dee said.

Most U.S. states and major cities do not try to set an upper limit on spending for snow removal but authorize agencies to spend what is necessary and count on legislatures to cover the cost.

"Before I became governor, I never saw winter in budgetary terms, but now I do," Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick told local WBZ radio, adding that he was counting on lawmakers to fund the state's rising snow-removal and salt tab.

Some commercial suppliers said they had run out.

"With major rock salt shortages, it's starting to get scary out there," said Anthony Scorzetti, a hardware and paint manager for Braen Supply in Wanaque, New Jersey. "I have people calling from all parts of the East Coast looking for it, and we just have nothing."

Tom Breier, general manager of Ice Melt Chicago, a supplier based in Lisle, Illinois, said he got a call from a New York supplier pleading for salt but could not help.

DANGEROUS DRIVING

Bruce Small, 58, an aircraft mechanic from Milford, Connecticut, called the local road conditions "horrible."

More than 300 traffic accidents were reported on major roadways and side streets in the state, though there were no fatalities, according to Connecticut State Police.

The same storm system earlier claimed the life of a woman in a Chicago suburb, who died after being struck in a parking lot on Wednesday morning by a pickup truck fitted with a snowplow, officials said.

Ice Melt Chicago's Breier said the weather was also disrupting shipping.

A lot of the salt in the Chicago area is delivered along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers on barges, but the Illinois was frozen. The salt was arriving by truck, he said, increasing freight costs.

Denver, Colorado recorded a cold weather record for Feb. 5, with the day's high staying below zero Fahrenheit at minus 1 (minus 18 Celsius).

"This is likely the coldest air mass we'll see in Colorado for 2014," said National Weather Service meteorologist Kyle Ferdin. (Additional reporting by Mary Wisniewski in Chicago, Edward Krudy and Scott DiSavino in New York, Richard Weizel in Connecticut, Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Eric M. Johnson in Seattle, Keith Coffman in Denver and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and John Stonestreet)

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