Sunday, February 7, 2010

Washington, D.C., digs out after storm

Residents and road crews in Washington, D.C., began the long process Saturday night of digging out from one of the biggest snowstorms in history to hit the U.S. capital.

The storm, which began Friday, dumped up to 60 centimetres of snow on the district and even more on parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and northern Maryland.

The capital's rail system announced it was shutting down four hours early on Saturday night and transit authorities cancelled all bus service and above-ground rail service for Sunday.

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty told the Washington Post that more than 750 municipal workers and contractors will work through the weekend to try to get the city open by rush hour Monday morning.

"This is certainly the most snow as any one of us has seen in our lifetime," Fenty said.

Philadelphia, the sixth largest city in the U.S., was virtually shut down with a record snowfall of nearly 70 centimetres.

In Virginia, transportation officials said it could take until Wednesday or Thursday before crews finish plowing streets in subdivisions.

"Snowmageddon," President Barack Obama called it. Even the president's motorcade — which featured SUVs instead of limousines — fell victim to the blizzard. A tree limb snapped and crashed onto a motorcade vehicle carrying media members.

The snow fell too quickly for crews to keep up, and officials begged residents to stay home.

The usually traffic-snarled roads were mostly barren, save for some plows, fire trucks, ambulances and a few SUVs. The Capital Beltway, always filled with cars, was empty at times.

Airlines cancelled flights, churches called off weekend services and museums closed their doors.

The storm also left almost 190,000 people in the region without power.

According to the National Weather Service, Washington has received more than 30 centimetres of snow only 13 times since 1870.

The heaviest on record was 72 centimetres in January 1922. The biggest snowfall for the Washington-Baltimore area is believed to have been in 1772, before official records were kept, when as much as 90 centimetres fell, which George Washington and Thomas Jefferson noted in their diaries.

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