By Jay Lindsay
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BOSTON _ A behemoth storm packing hurricane-force wind gusts and storm conditions swept through the U.S. Northeast on Saturday, dumping more than 2 feet (more than a half meter) of snow on New England and knocking out power to 650,000 homes and businesses.
At least four deaths were being blamed on the storm, three in Canada and one in New York. In southern Ontario, an 80-year-old woman collapsed while shovelling her driveway and two men were killed in car crashes. In New York, a 74-year-old man died after being struck by a car in Poughkeepsie; the driver said she lost control in the snowy conditions, police said.
More than 28 inches (71 centimetres) of snow had fallen on central Connecticut by early Saturday, and areas of southeastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire notched 2 feet or more of snow _ with more falling. Airlines scratched more than 5,300 flights through Saturday, and New York City's three major airports and Boston's Logan Airport closed.
The wind-whipped snowstorm mercifully arrived at the start of a weekend, which meant fewer cars on the road and extra time for sanitation crews to clear the mess before commuters in the New York-to-Boston region of roughly 25 million people have to go back to work.
The U.S. Postal Service closed post offices and suspended mail delivery on Saturday in all of New England.
In Maine, officials said numerous vehicles, including several state police cars, were stuck in deep snow and warned stranded drivers to expect long waits for tow trucks or other assistance.
For a group of stranded European business travellers, the snow meant making the best of downtime in a hotel restaurant Friday night in downtown Boston, where snow blew outside and drifted several inches deep on the sidewalks.
Four deaths blamed on storm -
The six Santander bank employees found their flights back to Spain cancelled, and they gave up on seeing the city or having dinner out.
``We are not believing it,'' said Tommaso Memeghini, 29, an Italian who lives in Barcelona. ``We were told it may be the biggest snowstorm in the last 20 years.''
The National Weather Service says up to 3 feet (about a meter) of snow is expected in Boston, threatening the city's 2003 record of 27.6 inches. (70.1 centimetres). A wind gust of 76 mph (122 kph) was recorded at Logan Airport.
In heavily Catholic Boston, the archdiocese urged parishioners to be prudent about attending Sunday Mass and reminded them that, under church law, the obligation ``does not apply when there is grave difficulty in fulfilling this obligation.''
Halfway through what had been a mild winter across the Northeast, blizzard warnings were posted from parts of New Jersey to Maine.
Early snowfall was blamed for a 19-car pileup in Cumberland, Maine, that caused minor injuries. In New York, hundreds of cars began getting stuck on the Long Island Expressway on Friday afternoon at the beginning of the snowstorm and dozens of motorists remained disabled early Saturday as police worked to free them.
About 650,000 customers in the Northeast lost power during the height of the snowstorm, most of them in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth lost electricity and shut down Friday night during the storm. Authorities say there's no threat to public safety.
Associated Press writers John Christoffersen in Fairfield, Connecticut, Samantha Critchell and Colleen Long in New York and Sylvia Wingfield in Boston contributed to this report.