Huge snowstorm hits US east coast

Snow plows in New York's Times Square on February 1, 2021
Snow plows in New York's Times Square on February 1, 2021 Angela Weiss AFP
3 min
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New York (AFP)

A huge snowstorm brought chaos to the United States east coast on Monday, canceling thousands of flights, closing schools and forcing the postponement of coronavirus vaccinations as New York steeled itself for almost two feet (60 centimeters) of snow.

The National Weather Service (NWS) issued storm warnings from Virginia to Maine -- home to tens of millions of people -- as heavy snowfall mixed with wind gusts up to 50 miles (80 kilometers) per hour spurred blizzard-like conditions along the eastern seaboard.

New York declared a "state of emergency" that restricted non-essential travel, moved all children to remote learning and rescheduled long-awaited vaccine shots as the city braced for possibly one of the heaviest snowfalls in its history.

Salt trucks and snow plows moved out across New York's streets, already quieter than usual due to Covid-19, as Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the few children who had returned to pandemic-era classrooms would also stay at home on Tuesday.

"There will be locusts next at the rate we're going," quipped de Blasio, who also suspended outdoor dining, the latest blow to the city's beleaguered pandemic-hit restaurants, on MSNBC.

More than 1,500 US flights were canceled -- mostly at airports in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington -- disrupting travel that has already been heavily curtailed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

La Guardia Airport canceled 90 percent of flights, while JFK and Newark airports both scrapped 70 percent of flights.

By Monday morning five inches of snow had fallen in the Big Apple. Snowfall was expected to continue into Tuesday morning with forecasters predicting 20 inches in total.

"If we get above 20 inches, it should rank somewhere near the top 10 snowiest events for New York City,", Matthew Wunsch, a National Weather Service forecaster told AFP.

- Power outages -

In Washington, where snow and ice formed since Sunday, President Joe Biden postponed a scheduled visit to the State Department due the conditions.

The capital pushed back until Tuesday a planned return to school for thousands of children who have been learning at home for almost a year because of the pandemic.

Heavy snowfall was also forecast for New Jersey, Philadelphia and Connecticut.

New Jersey issued a state of emergency, allowing authorities to close roads, evacuate homes and commandeer equipment needed for public safety.

"There's a high potential for power outages due to heavy snow and high winds. Charge your devices, and if you experience a power outage –- report it immediately," Governor Phil Murphy.

Philadelphia also declared a snow emergency, closing city government buildings for Monday and ordering residents to move their cars off snow emergency routes so the plows can get through.

The storm hit mountainous parts of California with more than six feet of snow and heavy rain last week.

It then moved to the Midwest, dumping about eight inches of snow in Chicago, according to the NWS.