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Snow halts flights at JFK, buries streets; two deaths on East Coast

NEW YORK -- Flights into and out of John F. Kennedy International Airport were suspended for hours Friday, at least two deaths were reported in the region and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio gave more than 1 million pupils a day off as a winter storm dumped nearly two feet of snow in some areas and iced over roads.

Thousands of flights were delayed or canceled, and while La Guardia and Newark-Liberty airports in the New York region were operating, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey took the step of halting operations at JFK early Friday “due to zero visibility and windblown snow on the runways.”

“The airport terminals remain open,” the agency, which operates area airports, said in a statement released before dawn. As of 6:30 a.m., it said JFK was reporting at least 120 flight cancellations. Four hours later, the agency announced JFK flights were resuming but that at least 192 cancellations had been reported.

De Blasio announced the school closure just before 5:30 a.m. On Thursday, his first full day on the job, De Blasio said he would wait until early morning before making a decision on whether to cancel classes. At that time, De Blasio cited forecasts that indicated the city might not be slammed with as much snow as originally predicted. 

But as the night wore on, winds picked up and the snow accumulation was on the higher end of the National Weather Service's forecast. By Friday morning, some parts of the city had nearly seven inches of snow on the ground. The poor conditions were compounded by high winds and temperatures well below freezing.

Areas to the north and east suffered far worse conditions. In Boston, more than a foot of snow had fallen, and more was expected Friday. The predicted high temperature Friday was 13 degrees, with a wind-chill factor of 14 below zero.

East of New York City, the Long Island Expressway reopened at 8 a.m., three hours later than originally scheduled, after being closed at midnight amid blizzard conditions.

One death in New York state and another in Pennsylvania were blamed on the storm. In Byron, N.Y., about 350 miles northwest of New York City, officials said a 71-year-old woman with  Alzheimer’s disease wandered away from her home and froze to death.

In Falls, Pa., about 40 miles north of Philadelphia, a man was killed Thursday when a pile of rock salt buried his vehicle as he was using an excavator to move it out of a storage facility, officials said.

Seven other deaths farther afield, from Michigan to Kentucky, were blamed on slick roads related to the storm system, The Associated Press reported.

About 1,700 snowplows hit the streets of New York on Thursday night as De Blasio vowed not to repeat mistakes made by predecessors who, in past snowstorms, were accused of focusing cleanup on Manhattan while ignoring the four other boroughs.  De Blasio said memories of a December 2010 storm, which left his Brooklyn block and countless others buried in snow for three days, remained vivid.

“In the areas that were hard-hit, it’s hard to forget we didn’t get the response we needed,” said De Blasio as he began shoveling the sidewalk outside his Brooklyn home early Friday.  De Blasio, in addition to promising to plow streets across all the boroughs, also offered tips to other New Yorkers as he dug into the snow drifts leading from his front door out to the well-plowed street.

“I urge all New Yorkers: don’t lift with your back,” he said. “Lift with your knees.”

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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