Blizzard Slams Into East, Killing 20 People

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A blizzard slammed into the Eastern Seaboard on Sunday, killing at least 20 people, closing airports, paralyzing businesses and bringing government to a standstill with knee-deep snow.

Forecasts said the storm would leave many areas in the region buried under at least 2 feet of snow.

A region from Ohio to Alabama to New York was affected by the storm, but the Washington area took the brunt, forcing Virginia and Maryland authorities to declare states of emergency and call out the National Guard.

"This is a war on snow," said Washington Mayor Marion Barry, besieged at the city's Emergency Preparedness Center. "We are trying to win it."

States of emergency were also declared in all or parts of Kentucky, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Georgia and Delaware.

At least 20 deaths were blamed on the storm, with five in Kentucky, five in Virginia, three in North Carolina, two each in Ohio and West Virginia, and one each in Pennsylvania, Washington and South Carolina.

The storm, fueled by moist air from the south and a frigid flow from the north, is the most powerful blizzard to hit the East since 1922.

New York Gov. George Pataki declared a state of emergency for the parts of the state hardest hit and mobilized units of the National Guard with ambulances and amphibious rescue vehicles as tides were expected to rise to dangerous levels in some coastal communities.

New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani asked people to stay home today to allow plows and salt spreaders to fight the snow.

The city's Sanitation Department, its work force under pressure, put out an appeal for private contractors with snow-removal equipment to help. But in many cases the battle to clear streets and sidewalks was futile as fresh flakes soon obliterated the results of shoveling.

Snow sometimes fell at a rate of 2 inches an hour in New York, and the National Weather Service said it could increase to 3 inches an hour. All three airports serving the city were closed. The New York Stock Exchange said it would open as usual today.

Meteorologists predicted as much as 2 1/2 feet of snow before the storm is expected to end today. Drifts could rise as high as 5 feet.

Shoppers jammed grocery stores to buy essentials before they barricaded themselves inside their homes, a routine of winter drudgery on the East Coast.

In the nation's capital, airports, government agencies, churches, universities, businesses, malls and museums were all shut with little expectation of reopening today or even Tuesday.

President Clinton managed to slog through the snow to attend church Sunday, but he later called off a budget negotiating session with Republican congressional leaders.

The storm also dealt federal workers an ironic lesson, ensuring that they would stay home today after being recalled to their jobs because Clinton and Republican Party leaders had reached agreement to end the partial government shutdown.

"This is God's furlough," said John Isaacs, president of the Council for a Livable World. "If you want a furlough, he'll show you one."

The snow in the nation's capital began falling Saturday night and continued throughout Sunday at a rate of 1 to 3 inches per hour as temperatures hovered in the low 20s and as wind gained strength, overwhelming emergency crews.

Airport crews were unable to keep runways clear and aircraft could not taxi safely. Thousands of passengers were stranded.

Amtrak trains were operating on reduced schedules. Truck stops were jammed as big-rig drivers pulled off highways. The snow was so deep in some areas that tow trucks sent to rescue motorists became stuck.

In Ohio, up to a foot fell in some areas, and winds whipped drifts up to 3 feet high. Twelve shopping malls in Cincinnati and Dayton were closed Sunday, and schools were to close today.

The relentless storm began as severe rain across the Carolinas and Georgia on Saturday morning, but as it swept north across Virginia it ran into freezing temperatures to produce an abundance of fluffy snow that was whipped by stiff winds.

In parts of rural Virginia and Maryland, the snow was already 26 inches deep on Sunday, the Weather Service reported.

"Public Works is busting their behinds, but this stuff is falling at a rate of 3 inches per hour," Kerry Payne, an official at the District of Columbia Department of Emergency Services said. "This is the biggest I can ever remember. It's a good day to be in L.A."

In Los Angeles, the thermometer hit a record 86 degrees, breaking the Jan. 7 mark of 85 set in 1962.

The Potomac American Automobile Assn. said many Eastern motorists had ignored warnings to stay at home and had slid off roads into embankments.

But many residents also spent Sunday playing in the snow, though the low wind-chill factor forced many to beat a hasty retreat.

"It is so wind-swept it is bitter," said Chris Foster, who ventured out cross-country skiing near his home in McLean, Va.

Times staff writer Marlene Cimons and wire services contributed to this story.

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Snowstorm Affects Airports

Here is a list of major airports affected by Sunday's snowstorm on the Eastern Seaboard:

* New York's John F. Kennedy: Closed.

* New York's La Guardia: Closed.

* Newark, N.J.: Closed.

* Washington Dulles: Closed until noon today.

* Washington National: Closed.

* Baltimore-Washington: Closed.

* Philadelphia: Closed until 6 a.m. today.

* Boston's Logan: Many flights canceled.

* Raleigh-Durham, N.C.: Most flights canceled.

Source: Associated Press

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