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.
An area from Ohio to Alabama to New York was affected by the storm, but the Washington region 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.
Of the 20 deaths blamed on the storm, five were 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. Nearly all were traffic-related.
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.
Snow sometimes fell at a rate of 2 inches an hour, and the National Weather Service said it could increase to 3 inches an hour. All three airports serving New York were closed.
Meteorologists predicted as much as 2-1/2 feet of snow before the storm is expected to end.
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 morning, 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.
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.
“We’re stuck wherever we’re at,” said trucker Johnny Vollrath, idling his big rig at a service station along Interstate 64 in West Virginia. “It’s real bad. … We’re stuck in the truck stop or the Kmart parking lot bored to death.”
The snow was so deep in some areas that tow trucks sent to rescue motorists became stuck.
All Home Depot stores in northern Virginia were closed and many Wal-Mart stores also were dark. The Potomac Mills Mall in Prince William County - the state’s most popular tourist destination - also was closed.
“We are stranded big-time,” said Neva Runyon at remote Hardy in the hills of eastern Kentucky. Almost 2 feet of snow was on the ground by midday and a deputy had to hike to her house with a delivery of special formula for her 5-month-old son.
“We just didn’t know it was going to get this bad,” she said.
Many of North Carolina’s western counties were without electricity because of sleet and freezing rain, and thousands of customers were blacked out in southwestern Virginia.
About 9,000 customers lost service in South Carolina, 5,000 customers were without power in southern Delaware and 3,000 were blacked out in West Virginia.
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.
The storm ranks as the most serious in the mid-Atlantic since 1922, when Baltimore was buried under 24.7 inches of snow.
In parts of rural Virginia and Maryland, the snow was already 26 inches deep on Sunday.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: AIRPORT CLOSURES Major airports affected by snowstorm as of Sunday evening: John F. Kennedy: closed. LaGuardia: closed. Newark: closed indefinitely. Dulles: closed until noon today. National: closed indefinitely. Baltimore-Washington: closed indefinitely. Philadelphia: closed until 6 a.m. today. Logan at Boston: many flights canceled. Richmond, Va.: closed until late this morning. Raleigh-Durham, N.C.: most flights canceled. T.F. Green at Warwick, R.I.: most flights canceled. Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C.: all flights canceled or delayed. Bradley at Windsor Locks, Conn.: many flights canceled or delayed. TWA said it canceled 170 flights. USAir said it canceled 1,100 flights.