BOSTON — A behemoth storm packing hurricane-force wind gusts and blizzard conditions swept through the Northeast overnight, where more than 650,000 homes and businesses in the densely populated region lost power and New Englanders awoke Saturday to more than 2 feet of snow.
More than 34 inches of snow fell in Hamden in central Connecticut, and an 82-mph wind gust was recorded down the coastline in Westport. Areas of southeastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire notched at least 2 feet — with more falling. Airlines scratched more than 5,300 flights through Saturday, and the three major airports serving New York City as well as Boston's Logan Airport closed.
Flooding was also a concern along the coast, and the possibility led to the evacuation of two neighborhoods in Quincy, Mass., said Fire Deputy Gary Smith.
All roads were ordered closed Saturday in Connecticut, where the storm made travel nearly impossible even for emergency responders who found themselves stuck on highways. In Maine, officials said numerous vehicles, including several state police cars, were also stuck in deep snow and warned stranded drivers to expect long waits for tow trucks or other assistance.
Even the U.S. Postal Service closed post offices and suspended mail delivery Saturday in New England.
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. But halfway through what had been a mild winter across the Northeast, it also could mean a weekend cooped up indoors.
A little more than 11 inches fell in New York City, where carpenter Kevin Byrne was using a scraper to dig out his car Saturday and was relieved the storm hadn't hit the city more strongly. He said he'd taken his shovel out of his car and left it at home.
"I wasn't prepared. ... But was anybody prepared? The last two winters have been so mild," he said. "I've been meaning to buy a salt spreader all winter long, but I just kept putting it off."
Nearly 22 inches of snow fell in Boston and up to 3 feet was expected, the National Weather Service said, threatening the city's 2003 record of 27.6 inches. In the heavily Catholic city, the archdiocese urged parishioners to be prudent and reminded them that, under church law, the requirement to attend Sunday Mass "does not apply when there is grave difficulty in fulfilling this obligation."
Early snowfall was blamed for a 19-car pileup Friday in Cumberland, Maine, that caused minor injuries. In New York, hundreds of cars got stuck on the Long Island Expressway on Friday, and dozens 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, Mass., lost electricity and shut down Friday night during the storm. Authorities say there's no threat to public safety.
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 shoveling 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.
Forecasters said wind gusts exceeding 75 mph could cause more widespread power outages and whip the snow into fearsome drifts. Flooding was expected along coastal areas still recovering from Superstorm Sandy, which hit New York and New Jersey the hardest and is considered Jersey's worst natural disaster.
In Manhattan, streets normally bustling after midnight, were quiet Saturday but for the hum of snow blowers, the scrape of shovels and the laughter from late night revelers who braved the snow.
Bill Tavonallo, 39, said he walked home on purpose from a Manhattan bar to enjoy the snow falling.
"With Sandy, we were scared. But this is wonderful," he said, his glasses crusted with ice. "It's nice to have a reason to slow down."
In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick enacted a statewide driving ban for the first time since the Blizzard of '78, a ferocious storm that dropped 27 inches of snow, packed hurricane-force winds and claimed dozens of lives.
In New York, Fashion Week, a series of designer showings with some activities held under tents, went on mostly as scheduled, though organizers put on additional crews to deal with the snow and ice, turned up the heat and fortified the tents. The snow did require some wardrobe changes: Designer Michael Kors was forced to arrive at the Project Runway show in Uggs.
For Joe DeMartino, of Fairfield, Conn., being overprepared for the weather was impossible: His wife was expecting their first baby Sunday. He stocked up on gas and food, got firewood ready and was installing a baby seat in the car. The couple also packed for the hospital.
"They say that things should clear up by Sunday. We're hoping that they're right," he said.
Said his wife, Michelle: "It adds an element of excitement."
Associated Press writers John Christoffersen in Fairfield, Conn., Samantha Critchell, Karen Matthews and Colleen Long in New York and Sylvia Wingfield in Boston contributed to this report.