White-out! Blizzards hit north-east US

More than 3ft of snow brings power cuts and chaos

The north-eastern United States and eastern Canada were pummelled yesterday by a severe blizzard which brought furious winds and hours of snowfall, knocking out power for more than 600,000 people across the region, and forcing the cancellation of thousands of flights and other transport links. In places, there was more than 3ft of snow.

At least six deaths were blamed on the storm conditions, according to the Associated Press. A man in his seventies was reported to have died when a driver lost control of her car in the storm and crashed into him in Poughkeepsie, upstate New York. Another pedestrian was killed in an accident in Prospect, Connecticut, while in Germantown, New York, a 23-year-old man was reported to have died after going off the edge of a roadway as he cleared his drive. Across the Canadian border in southern Ontario, an 80-year-old woman was reported to have collapsed as she shovelled snow from her drive.

Overnight, parts of Connecticut, where highways were shut down to all but emergency vehicles, were blanketed by more than 3ft of snow, while reports of up to 2ft of snow came from Long Island and parts of Massachusetts.

Yesterday morning, the snow was still coming down, albeit in smaller quantities, across parts of New England. In Boston, residents awoke to find snow piled high along pavements by ploughs that had worked through the night. The streets were deserted, with more than one account describing the usually bustling city centre as a ghost town. Over in Hartford, Conneticut, which was hit by 34in of snow, the Mayor, Pedro Segarra, said city crews had been forced to suspend efforts to clear the streets as the snow came down as a furious rate of more than 4ins per hour.

In Long Island, hundreds of motorists were marooned yesterday morning in white-out conditions after an accident blocked the Long Island Expressway. Speaking to The New York Times, a police spokesman said: "Basically, since the blizzard started people have been stuck." The storm was also blamed for a 19-car pileup in Maine.

The Governor of Connecticut, Dan Malloy, implored residents to remain off the roads. "It's critical right now that residents stay off the roads, so that our ploughs can continue their efforts to clear our streets and highways," he said.

"This is a record-setting storm. It's going to take time to dig out of the snow. Stalled or abandoned vehicles will only slow that process. Unless you face an emergency, please stay put."

The message was reiterated by New York's Governor, Andrew Cuomo, who asked residents of the worst-affected parts of the state to say indoors. "If you don't have to be out, don't be out, especially on Long Island," he said at a press conference yesterday morning.

New York City got away relatively unscathed, with Central Park seeing just over 11ins of snow by 6am. Moreover, the snowfall came to a halt at daybreak, allowing city authorities to press on with the task of clearing the roads.

New York's Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said the city had "dodged a bullet". "The storm certainly brought plenty of snow – about a foot in a lot of areas in New York City – but we certainly avoided the worst of it," he said, offering assistance to neighbouring regions that had been hit harder by the storm. "They have gotten an enormous amount of snow, and the snow continues to come down."

Making matters worse for many residents across the north-east were the strong winds, which gusted to more than 70 miles per hour in numerous towns and cities, causing massive snow drifts and knocking down trees and power lines. On the island of Cuttyhunk, off Cape Cod, winds reached 83mph, while speeds of more than 80mph were recorded in Westport, Connecticut.

Earlier, the governors of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Connecticut and Maine declared states of emergency as forecasts worsened on Friday. Other states affected by the blizzard included New Hampshire, Vermont, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, along with southern parts of the Canadian Atlantic coast.

As the weekend began, there were concerns about the impact of the winds in coastal areas, with reports of waves as high as 15ft and 20ft off the shore of Boston and Cape Cod.

Officials in Massachusetts were trying to rescue people who had lost power to their homes – but efforts were hindered by the fact that many emergency personnel were themselves stranded by the record snowfall. National Guard members were deployed in parts of the state, but only around 2,000 of the more than 5,000-strong force were reported to be on duty, with thousands still trapped at home.

In addition to restoring power, officials were also working to revive transport links suspended because of the blizzard. More than 5,300 flights were reported to have been cancelled owing to the storm. There was limited activity at New York's airports on Saturday morning, although Newark Liberty International airport, which is across the water from Manhattan, was scheduled to reopen fully after just 6ins of snow had fallen.

Further north, Logan International airport in Boston was expected to remain closed until Sunday, as crews worked to clear the snowed-in runways. Airports across the region hoped to restart services on Sunday. Amtrak trains were also suspended ahead of the storm on Friday, as were many Greyhound bus services.

Meanwhile, officials and state utilities reported around 470,000 power failures at homes and businesses across Massachusetts by early Saturday morning. Another 180,000 homes were reported to be in the dark in Rhode Island, while around 10,000 were reported to be without power on Long Island. Some 30,000 were believed to be without power in Connecticut.

The snowstorm came just days after the 35th anniversary of the devastating blizzard of 1978 which left Boston blanketed by a record of more than 27in of snow, while hurricane-force winds triggered massive snowdrifts.