Snowstorm pounds Northeast, stranding travelers

Winter blast being blamed for at least 16 deaths in mostly traffic-related incidents

A large swathe of northeast America continued to blanketed by snow Saturday as the death toll from icy conditions and frigid temperatures continued to rise.

The storm, which shut down major highways temporarily and grounded flights, was blamed for at least 16 deaths in the eastern half of the country in mostly traffic-related incidents. Three people, however, did die directly because of the extreme cold, officials said.

Snowfall had all but stopped by the weekend, and the low temperatures meant that it remained powdery and easy to move.

But plummeting temperatures that reached 8 degrees below zero in Burlington, Vt., with a wind chill of 29 below, and 2 degrees in Boston, with a wind chill of minus 20 continued into the weekend.

Though the snowstorm has largely passed, the Midwest is now bracing itself for a deep freeze on Sunday that could break record low temperatures.

The storm dumped 23 inches of snow in Boxford, Mass., and 18 inches in parts of western New York near Rochester. Thirteen inches of snow fell in Boston, while Lakewood, N.J., got 10 inches and New York City's Central Park got 6.

Slick roads were blamed for traffic deaths in Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois. Authorities said a 71-year-old woman suffering from Alzheimer's froze to death after she wandered away from her rural western New York home.

As the storm approached, a worker at a suburban Philadelphia salt storage facility was killed when a 100-foot-tall pile of road salt fell and crushed him. Falls Township police said the man was trapped while operating a backhoe. There was no word on what may have caused the accident.

U.S. airlines canceled more than 2,300 flights because of snowfall and low visibility. John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City was closed because of weather conditions on Friday morning but has since reopened. However, there continue to be delays and cancellations at JFK and other area airports.

Amtrak planned to run trains on all its Northeast lines on Friday but on a modified schedule, spokeswoman Christina Leeds said.

Snow began falling overnight Wednesday in parts of New England and New York state, but the brunt of the storm began late Thursday.

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for Cape Cod, coastal areas north and south of Boston and part of Maine as well as New York's Long Island.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said state offices that closed early Thursday would remain closed on Friday. He also said National Guard members and state police were on standby for any high-tide flooding in vulnerable coastal areas, but no mandatory evacuations were ordered.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered three major highways in his state, from Long Island to Albany, closed overnight. Those highways have since been reopened. He has declared a state of emergency, as has New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. 

Even though the snow has ended, the travel conditions are obviously still very, very difficult.

Bill de Blasio

New York mayor

The heavy weather began rolling in just a day after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was inaugurated to lead the nation's largest city and shortly before Boston Mayor Thomas Menino ends 20 years in office on Monday.

De Blasio, who as public advocate in 2010 criticized then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his handling of a large snowstorm, dispatched hundreds of plows and salt spreaders on the streets as soon as the snow started falling Thursday night.

On Friday, he hailed the city's sanitation workers for their efforts, but cautioned residents to take a safety-first approach as roads continue to be cleared.

"Even though the snow has ended, the travel conditions are obviously still very, very difficult," de Blasio said at a news conference Friday morning. "The most important thing is that people should not be on the roads today if there’s any way they can help it."

Many schools across the Northeast were closed Friday as a result of the storm, including all New York City public schools. 

On Thursday, outreach teams worked to get homeless people off the frigid streets of New York City and Boston. Staff members at Boston's Pine Street Inn shelter were keeping it open 24 hours and said they would not turn anyone away, even if it meant setting up extra cots in lobbies and other common areas.

The snowstorm worked its way east from the Midwest, where it dropped up to a foot of snow on Michigan and more than a foot in parts of Illinois, prompting the cancellation Thursday of hundreds of flights at both Chicago airports.

Nearly 17 inches of snow fell in some of Chicago's northern suburbs, and more than 12 inches was recorded at Midway International Airport.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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