NEW YORK – A ferocious storm packing freezing rain, heavy snow and furious wind gusts paralyzed most of the East Coast on Monday, sending dozens of cars careening into ditches, grounding hundreds of flights and closing school for millions of kids.
The devastating effects of the storm were seen up and down the coast. A crash caused a 15-mile traffic jam in North Carolina, forcing police and the Red Cross to go car-to-car to check on stranded drivers. The storm was blamed for 350 crashes in New Jersey, and a Maryland official counted about 50 cars in the ditch on one stretch of highway.
By Monday, the storm had moved north into New England, and most areas in the storm's wake expected to see at least 8 to 12 inches of snow. The weather contributed to four deaths on roads in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and on Long Island.
Diane Lugo, of Yonkers, N.Y., got a ride with her husband to avoid walking 10 minutes in the slush to her bus stop. "Getting out of the driveway was pure hell," Lugo said. "He got to work late. I'm obviously late."
The South was especially hard hit, dealing with record snowfalls, thick ice and hundreds of thousands of power outages in a region not accustomed to such vicious weather.
In North Carolina, Raleigh got more than 3 inches of snow; the March snowfall for the city has exceeded 3 inches only 11 times in the last 122 years. The Weather Service said parts of Tennessee received the biggest snowfall since 1968.
The 15-mile traffic jam in North Carolina caused no serious problems and authorities were able to get traffic moving again.
Travelers were stranded everywhere, with about 950 flights canceled at the three main airports in the New York area and nearly 300 flights canceled in Philadelphia. Boston's Logan International Airport had to shut down for about 40 minutes to clear a runway, and hundreds of flights were canceled there.
Philadelphia declared a Code Blue weather emergency, which gives officials the authority to bring homeless people into shelters because the weather poses a threat of serious harm or death.
Dozens of schools across North Carolina, South Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Maine gave children a snow day. Schools in Philadelphia, Boston and New York City did the same. It was the first time in more than five years that New York City called off classes for its 1.1 million public school students.
Some New York parents complained that the city waited until 5:40 a.m. to call off classes, saying they didn't have enough notice. Mayor Michael Bloomberg brushed off the criticism and praised the city's storm response, which included dispatching 2,000 workers and 1,400 plows to work around the clock to clean New York's 6,000 miles of streets.
"It's like plowing from here to Los Angeles and back," Bloomberg said at a news conference, standing in front of an orange snow plow at a garage. Central Park recorded 7 inches of snow, and more than a foot was reported on parts of Long Island, where high winds caused 2-foot drifts on highways in the Hamptons.
The storm offered a hint of irony in a couple of cities. People had to brave the snow and cold to attend the annual Philadelphia Flower Show, an indoor exhibition that provided a fragrant, spring-like glimpse of yellow daffodils, crimson azaleas and white tulips. In the nation's capital, hundreds of protesters gathered on Capitol Hill to protest a power plant and global warming during one of the worst storms of the year.
In Fairfax, Va., 8-year-old Sarah Conforti said Monday's day off was just what she'd been hoping for, and planned to "make a snowman or play in the snow with my friends," she said.
Her mother, Noelle Conforti, said Sarah and her 10-year-old sister couldn't be happier about the school-free day. "The kids are against the window, just looking out the window like a cat," she said. "It's hilarious."
Outside a medical center in New Rochelle, N.Y., Emilia Rescigna struggled to push a stroller through the snow and slush. Asleep in the stroller was her 1-year-old son Adam, who had a 9 a.m. appointment with his pediatrician.
The snow began to accumulate in New Hampshire and Massachusetts as the storm moved north, but most residents there were taking it in stride.
"This is New England, after all," said Dave Richardson of Salem, Mass.
Associated Press writers Frank Eltman on Farmingdale, N.Y.; Jim Fitzgerald in Westchester County; Ula Ilnytzky and Amy Westfeldt in New York City; Russell Contreras in Boston; Ben Nuckols in Baltimore; and Bruce Shipkowski and Samantha Henry in Trenton, N.J., contributed to this report