(Gene J. Puskar/AP)
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- New Englanders began the back-breaking job of digging out from as much as 3 feet of snow Saturday and emergency crews used snowmobiles to reach shivering motorists stranded overnight on New York's Long Island after a howling storm swept through the Northeast.
About 510,000 homes and businesses remained without power late Saturday night, down from a total of about 650,000, and some may be cold and dark for days. Roads across the New York-to-Boston corridor of roughly 25 million people were impassable. Cars were entombed by drifts. Some people found the wet, heavy snow packed so high against their homes they couldn't get their doors open.
"It's like lifting cement. They say it's 2 feet, but I think it's more like 3 feet," said Michael Levesque, who was shoveling snow in Quincy, Mass., for a landscaping company.
In Providence, where drifts were 5 feet high and telephone lines drooped under the weight of ice and snow, Jason Harrison labored nearly three hours to clear his driveway and front walk and still had more to do. His snowblower, he said, "has already paid for itself."
At least five deaths in the U.S. were blamed on the overnight snowstorm, including an 11-year-old boy in Boston who was overcome by carbon monoxide as he sat in a running car to keep warm while his father shoveled Saturday morning.
Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee cautioned that while the snow had stopped, the danger hadn't passed: "People need to take this storm seriously, even after it's over. If you have any kind of heart condition, be careful with the shoveling."
With hurricane-force wind above 80 mph in places, the storm hit hard along the heavily populated Interstate 95 corridor between New York City and Maine. Milford., Conn., got 38 inches of snow, and Portland, Maine, recorded 31.9, shattering a 1979 record. Several communities got more than 2 feet.
Still, the storm was not as bad as some of the forecasts led many to fear, and not as dire as the Blizzard of '78, used by longtime New Englanders as the benchmark by which all other winter storms are measured.
By midday Saturday, the National Weather Service reported preliminary snowfall totals of 24.9 inches in Boston, or fifth on the city's all-time list. Bradley Airport near Hartford, Conn., got 22 inches, for the No. 2 spot in the record books there.
Concord, N.H., got 24 inches of snow, the second-highest amount on record and a few inches short of the reading from the great Blizzard of 1888.
In New York, where Central Park recorded 11 inches, not even enough to make the Top 10 list, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city "dodged a bullet" and its streets were "in great shape." The three major airports -- LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark, N.J. -- were up and running by late morning after shutting down the evening before.
Most of the power outages were in Massachusetts, where more than 400,000 homes and businesses were dark. Saturday night, about 344,000 remained without power. In Rhode Island, a peak of around 180,000 lost power, or about one-third of the state. By night, that was down to 130,000.
Connecticut crews had slowly whittled down the outage total to 31,000 from a high of about 38,000, and power was restored to nearly all of the more than 15,000 in Maine and New Hampshire who had no lights after the storm hit.
Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island imposed travel bans until 4 p.m. to keep cars off the road and let plows do their work, and the National Guard helped clear highways in Connecticut, where more than 240 auto accidents were reported. The Guardsmen rescued about 90 motorists, including a few who had hypothermia and were taken to hospitals.
Across much of New England, streets were empty of cars and dotted instead with children who had never seen so much snow and were jumping into snow banks and making forts. Snow was waist-high in the streets of Boston. Plows made some thoroughfares passable but piled even more snow on cars parked along the city's narrow streets.
Life went on as usual for some. In Portland, Karen Willis Beal got her dream wedding Saturday -- complete with a snowstorm just like the one that hit before her parents married in December 1970.
"I have always wanted a snowstorm for my wedding, and my wish has come true to the max," she said.