Death Toll 112 as East Digs Out of 'Storm of Century' : Blizzard: A million lose electric power, major highways remain closed, airlines struggle to resume operations. Clinton may add states to disaster list.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The dread "storm of the century" left at least 112 people dead and more than a million others without electric power on Sunday after blasting the eastern third of the United States with a mammoth blizzard one week before the official arrival of spring.

As the storm's bone-chilling winds whirled into Canada, many major highways remained closed, and airlines struggled to resume normal operations after a shutdown of major airports.

Forecasters warned of freezing temperatures in the Deep South and along the Atlantic Seaboard in the wake of a storm that dumped massive amounts of snow from Alabama to Maine and as far west as Chicago.

Birmingham, Ala., reported a record low temperature of 2 degrees, and Florida's fruit crops were threatened by a freeze while the Northeast shivered from wind-chill factors below zero.

In Clearwater, Fla., where students normally spend spring break sunning on Gulf Coast beaches, temperatures plunged to 40 degrees and winds blew at 20 m.p.h.

"And we came here to get away from the cold," lamented Joanne Farrell, a Toronto resident who came to Florida with her husband and three children.

Despite the grim aftermath, there were some positive notes in the storm story.

A timely shift in the wind, for example, sharply limited the damage to coastal areas in the Northeast that had been devastated by a three-day storm last December. Just before high tide, the wind began blowing from the west, pushing waves away from shore.

President Clinton, accompanied by his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, scrambled over ice and snow to walk to church in Washington. Aides said Clinton was considering whether to declare disasters in other states besides tornado-battered Florida, making them eligible for federal assistance.

Reports said at least 112 people were dead as a result of the "Blizzard of '93," including 19 in Pennsylvania where several people suffered heart attacks while digging out from the snowstorm.

Florida was hit the hardest, with 26 storm deaths. The following states listed these fatalities:

Alabama 7, Connecticut 2, Georgia 4, Kentucky 2, Louisiana 1, Maine 2, Maryland 1, Mississippi 1, New York 14, New Jersey 3, North Carolina 5, South Carolina 1, Tennessee 8, Virginia 4 and West Virginia 2. Three people died in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast. Cuban officials reported 3 deaths related to the storm; the toll in Canada was 4 deaths.

In contrast, 15 people died when Hurricane Andrew hit the United States last August, and 23 others perished in its aftermath.

U.S. Weather Service Director Elbert Joe Friday confirmed the historic nature of the late-winter surprise.

"With the devastation that has been wrought, I really probably think it is the storm of the century," Friday said on CBS-TV's "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

In New York City, where freezing rain fell on top of 10 inches of snow, drifts turned to icebergs that trapped parked cars and left Manhattan looking like a modern-day glacier. Lingering frigid temperatures prevented thawing, leaving rock-hard piles of ice and snow on streets and sidewalks.

The New York Stock Exchange and most other financial markets were expected to open at their regular time this morning, although business was expected to be slower than usual because some traders were planning to stay home, officials said.

As the Eastern Seaboard prepared to return to work today after a frosty weekend, tales of heroism and human endurance emerged amid the destruction and despair.

National Guard helicopters lifted 100 teen-agers to safety from a camp at Caesars Head, S. C., while the West Virginia National Guard rescued five missing mountain climbers. In New York City, police and a garbage truck driver snatched a dozen people from a submerged van.

Weddings went on despite the storm, although at times under trying conditions. When bridegroom Robert Esparza could not drive to his wedding site in Waynesboro, Pa., his bride, Susan Stenger, formed a convoy of four-wheel-drive vehicles and went by side roads to Hagerstown, Md., for the ceremony.

Despite occasional triumphs, devastation was more often the consequence of high winds, icy temperatures and driven snow.

In Spartanburg, S. C., a man died after falling asleep outside a nightclub. In Georgia and Florida, people were killed by falling trees. A woman on New York's Long Island woman was killed by a car when she walked in the street because sidewalks were impassable.

In Southampton, N. Y., near the eastern tip of Long Island, at least 15 homes fell into the sea. About 200 homes along the North Carolina coast were damaged.

Oceanfront areas were flooded along Florida's Gulf Coast, the Outer Banks of North Carolina and the Delaware-New Jersey shores.

At times during the storm, about 1.2 million people were without electricity on Sunday, including 430,000 in Alabama, 220,000 in Florida and 200,000 in Georgia.

Snowfalls set records in many places. Mt. Mitchell, N.C., the tallest peak in the East, had 50 inches of new snow, and drifts reached 14 feet.

Birmingham, Ala., which normally gets so little snow that it doesn't own a snowplow, was buried under 13 inches, or more than it had ever had for an entire winter.

Winds were at hurricane force or more. The highest recorded gust was 110 m.p.h. in Franklin County, Fla. Flattop Mountain near Asheville, N. C., had winds of 101 m.p.h.

Times staff writers William C. Rempel in New York and David G. Savage in Clearwater, Fla., and special correspondent Mike Clary in Miami contributed to this story.

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