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Thu Dec 08 04:01:26 SAST 2016

Washington struggles to dig out after giant blizzard

AFP | 2016-01-26 13:08:18.0

The capital of the world's leading superpower remained semi-paralyzed Tuesday as residents struggled to remove mountains of snow dumped in a weekend blizzard.

The federal government and area schools were closed for a second day in a row, as convoys of giant snow blowers and front loaders cruised the downtown streets clearing the main avenues.

The storm, which affected some 85 million people, was blamed for at least 33 deaths as it slammed much of the US east coast from Friday into early Sunday.

Many victims suffered heart attacks while shoveling snow or were killed on icy roads, and some died of carbon monoxide poisoning trying to stay warm in cars or homes.

In the US capital, the subway and bus network, closed since late Friday, is expected to mostly resume full service on Tuesday after servicing only underground stations on Monday.

Bus service however remains strictly limited.

Chris Geldart, the capital's director of homeland security and emergency services, told the Washington Post that a giant snow melter is on its way from the state of Indiana, while a convoy of trucks is heading in from Connecticut.

For many the thrill of a weekend spent building snowmen and sledding, or in warm homes endlessly watching television and playing video games, was over by Tuesday.

Millions of children in greater Washington metro area were again out of school as districts struggled with de-icing busses and salting sidewalks on school property.

It was hard enough getting people to work, as tens of thousands of suburbanites were unable to move their cars, trapped until a snowplow came to clear their neighborhood roads. The snow also disrupted garbage pickup and mail delivery.

Area residents were bracing for the disruption to drag on for days.

"From my estimation we got more snow than I have ever seen in Washington, DC," Mayor Muriel Bowser told CNN. "We are working hard to dig out all of our residential streets."

Limited flight operations resumed Monday from Washington's Reagan National and Dulles International airports, a day after officials battled in New York to get some aircraft off the ground.

Temperatures in the next days are forecast to be above freezing, but as the snow melts and the water freezes overnight, the thin layer of "black ice" will become a problem during the morning hours.

On Monday, under a sunny sky, the normally bustling avenues around the White House were all but deserted.

Heavy machinery equipped with powerful vacuums sucked at chest-high drifts of snow and spat it into 18-wheel trucks moving alongside at a snail's pace.

Dump trucks laden with increasingly dirty snow rumbled through the streets and crews in bright red shirts went at it with shovels.

To help ease congestion, the US House of Representatives opting to remain out of session for the coming week and no votes set until February 1.

More accustomed to heavy snowfall, New York City bounced back quicker, with schools in the Big Apple open on Monday and the mass transit system mostly up and running.

Broadway resumed shows and museums reopened, as snow plows quickly cleared the main avenues and temperatures rose to a relatively balmy 37 degrees Fahrenheit (three Celsius), the same as in Washington.

Some 26.8 inches (68 centimeters) of snow that fell in New York's Central Park was the second-highest accumulation since records began in 1869, exceeding the 22 inches (56 centimeters) of snow that paralyzed Washington.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the blizzard came within an inch of being "the biggest snowfall in history."

At one point, 2,500 snow plows were operating.

"We were getting as much as three inches in an hour. So this really was the big one," de Blasio said.

Beyond New York and Washington, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia were the hardest-hit areas. A few locations surpassed one-day and two-day snow records, said the National Weather Service.

In northern Virginia and Maryland, some of the main roads and highways were only partially plowed, with mountains of snow blocking whole lanes.

The near-record-breaking snowfall also smothered cities like Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Fatalities occurred in Arkansas, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

In Passaic, New Jersey, a 23-year-old and her year-old son died of carbon monoxide poisoning during the storm, while the family's three-year-old daughter was hospitalized in critical condition.

"The father was shoveling their car out and the wife and kids wanted to stay inside the car to keep warm," Detective Andrew White told AFP. "The car's exhaust pipe was covered and blocked with snowing causing carbon monoxide to enter the car."

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