America paralysed by record snowfalls

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The Independent Online


New York - Blizzards buried the north-eastern United States under record snowfalls yesterday, closing businesses and schools, stranding travellers and foiling plans to reopen the federal government.

Thirty inches (76 cm) fell in Philadelphia, almost 28 inches (71 cm) in Newark, New Jersey, and 18 inches (46 cm) in New York's Central Park, the National Weather Service said.

Washington looked like a ghost town as the storm accomplished what the long-running budget dispute between President Bill Clinton and the Republican- led Congress had failed to do - shut down the federal government entirely.

There were reports of at least 30 weather-related deaths. Some were due to traffic accidents, including one person struck by a snow plough in New Jersey.

A man in Maryland and two people in Delaware died while shovelling snow and one man in Delaware died after hitting his head in a snowmobile accident.

There were two deaths in Pennsylvania, and another three people were found dead out of doors in Philadelphia, but officials said they could not be sure whether they had died from exposure.

There was no mail delivery in New York, Washington, Boston and Philadelphia, and airports in Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Boston were closed. Overseas passengers hoping to land in New York found themselves diverted to Bangor, Maine.

Airports in New York - where about 1,700 people were stranded - and Boston were not likely to reopen until today, officials said. The United Nations was closed, and the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, was forced to cancel a scheduled departure for Paris.

Emergencies were declared in New York City and Boston as well as at least eight northeastern states. The snowfall was the third deepest in New York City history, after bliz-zards in 1947 and 1988, the Weather Service said. The city's schools were closed down for the first time since 1978. Mayor Thomas Menino closed most city agencies in Boston and the New York Governor, George Pataki, called out the National Guard to transport doctors and nurses to their jobs.

The entire 142-mile stretch of the New Jersey Turnpike, one of the North- east's most heavily travelled highways, was closed to all but essential traffic. In the New England state of Connecticut, winds gusted up to 55 miles per hour and dense snow reduced visibility to nil.

As the North-east shivered, however, southern California was basking in its hottest weather in more than three decades with temperatures in the Los Angeles area peaking at 87F (30C).