New York (AFP) – Tens of millions of Americans along the northeast coast buckled down Tuesday for another day of a monstrous snowstorm that has shut down New York and other major cities.
As dawn approached, the accumulation seemed lighter than originally forecast in some areas, news reports said. But wind-whipped snow was still coming down steadily and the storm was forecast to last well into the day.
The hassle associated with the bruiser of a storm, the first of the winter season, piled up faster than the snow.
Thousands of flights were cancelled for Monday and Tuesday, and authorities ordered drivers off the streets in New York and Boston. Public transport closed early, and until further notice.
Broadway shows and NBA games were cancelled on Monday, with streets blanketed in white and largely deserted.
States of emergency were declared in seven states.
Forecasters had warned the snow could reach historic proportions, dumping up to three feet (up to a metre) of snow in some areas.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said it would “most likely be one of the largest blizzards in the history of New York City.”
But the National Weather Service said that as of 1:00 am, just over six inches had fallen in Central Park.
And in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, which includes Boston, the accumulation was just 2.3 inches.
More than 7,100 flights were cancelled on Monday and Tuesday.
Manhattan was abandoned by panicked commuters rushing home early, leaving behind eerily quiet snowy streets.
On Monday night New York shut its transit system at 11:00 pm, made non-emergency road travel a criminal offense in 13 counties and closed tunnels and bridges connecting Manhattan to New Jersey.
“It could be a matter of life and death, and that’s not being overly dramatic, so caution is required,” New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo warned.
In the middle of the night CNN broadcast footage of New York’s Times Square empty but for snow plows and the odd pedestrian. Up and down the city’s broad avenues, traffic lights were red, one after another.
In New York City, the subway last closed for Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which killed more than 200 people and caused months-long power cuts.
With New England expected to be the worst affected by the “nor’easter,” public transit was also shut in Boston, as authorities implored residents used to winter storms to stay off the roads.
“Whiteout conditions and treacherous roads will make driving anywhere extremely dangerous,” Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker said as he declared a state of emergency at mid-day. “I can’t stress this part enough: Please stay off the roads.”
States of emergency were declared in states across the affected region as residents rushed to supermarkets to stockpile food.
“I have nothing to eat, I need some food. Who knows if tomorrow I’m going to leave my house,” said boutique worker Rosa Ramirez, queueing outside an upmarket Whole Foods store in Manhattan.
“What I do not know is how long I’ll have to wait,” she said, as snow and icy wind gusted through the queue of shoppers.
The snow was combined with winds of up to 70 miles an hour.
As well as blizzard warnings, flood warnings are also in effect, with officials fearing power outages and falling trees.
Cuomo called out several hundred National Guard for New York and Long Island, which juts out into the Atlantic.
Those caught out on the roads after the cut-off point would be liable for fines, Cuomo said.
Officials said virtually all flights at New York’s LaGuardia airport would be cancelled Tuesday and that John F. Kennedy International Airport would also see significant cancellations.
Boston’s Logan international airport will see no flights from Monday evening until Wednesday afternoon.
Weather reports indicated snowfall would likely fall short, however, of the city’s record 26.9 inches following a 16-hour storm in February 2006.
Schools will be closed on Tuesday and scheduled examinations cancelled.
The United Nations closed its headquarters early and was to remain shut, forcing the cancellation on Tuesday of an important event to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust.
AFP Photo/Jewel Samad