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Eastern America paralysed by snow

A heavy snowstorm has laid a blanket of peace and quiet on New York City, emptying the streets of almost all traffic and prompting many people to extend the Christmas holiday weekend for another day.

With up to two feet of snow having been dumped in less than 24 hours, the city was turned into a winter playground – although for those who did want to travel, there was chaos, with airports closed, thousands of flights cancelled and buses trapped in snowdrifts. Even the New York subway succumbed to disruption, with passengers trapped in one freezing train for a nightmarish seven hours.

The stories were the same across the north-east of the US, where six states declared states of emergency, and residents were told to make only vital journeys instead of braving the blizzards, which were exacerbated by howling winds of up to 50 miles an hour in some places. At its worst, late on Sunday, a few pedestrians battled their way home, even a few city blocks presenting a treacherous, if exhilarating, challenge.

In Manhattan yesterday, snowmen stood on sidewalks that would normally be crowded with people returning to work. Subway steps had turned to ski slopes. Parked cars were visible only as unusual bumps in the snow piled up against sidewalks, and the city authorities declared a parking ticket holiday until their owners had time to dig them out. Some New Yorkers ventured out only far enough to take photos and take part in a giant unofficial competition to post the prettiest pictures on Facebook.

For others, though, the snow brought only hard graft, as workers shoveled snow and ploughs roamed the streets across the region. Yesterday, officials were hoping to have reopened most of the region's major airports before nightfall, as the blizzard conditions subsided. Utility company workers raced to restore powerto about 30,000 customers in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, mostly on Cape Cod and southof Boston, where power lineshad been brought down by highwinds.

And there were horror stories, too. Hundreds had to camp out overnight at John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports, the three hubs for New York which between them cancelled 1,400 flights. The A train that broke down in Queens at 1am with 500 passengers on board, when power to the third rail failed, was not finally freed until 8am yesterday.

And in Maine, police said a 59-year-old man died after his pickup crashed into a tree during whiteout conditions on Sunday night.