Monday, October 31, 2011

Three die as early snow hits northeast US

The Times
  • A large tree falls on top of a car after an early snowfall
    A car crushed by a tree brought down by an early snowfall in Worcester, Massachusetts Adam Hunger/Reuters

A freak snow storm broke records and tree limbs as it swept through northeast America over the weekend, killing three people, causing three state governors to declare a state of emergency and leaving more than three million people without power.

Parts of the northeast were covered with a blanket of snow at least a foot deep. A thinner layer, 1.3in deep, settled on Central Park in New York City – the deepest snowfall there in October since records began. It was only the fourth October day in 135 years on which snow settled to a measurable level in the park.

City officials closed the park and dealt with nearly a thousand calls reporting fallen branches in the metropolis, brought down by the weight of snow gathering on trees that were still for the most part in full leaf.

’Shock’tober Snowstorm said one headline today, registering the amazement of meteorologists and the public, many of whom were busy preparing for America’s annual celebration of the freakish, the paranormal and the undead in Hallowe’en festivities tomorrow.

The costumes of a group of children arriving at the White House to “trick or treat” were obscured by their overcoats. “It’s not ideal out here,” said President Obama, as he and his wife, Michelle, handed out candy, cookies and dried fruit.

Snow covered ghouls, ghosts and zombies in suburban gardens all over the east coast, in what is usually a season for bright crisp days and “fall colours” – riotous explosions of red and yellow foliage as the leaves turn.

Three people were killed during the snow storm. In Pennsylvania an 84-year-old man died when a snow-laden tree fell into his home, another person died in Connecticut in a traffic accident blamed on frozen roads and in Massachusetts a 20-year-old man was killed after touching a guard rail electrified by fallen live wires.

Governor Chris Christie, who was among those left without power by the storm, declared a state of emergency in New Jersey. States of emergency were also declared in Connecticut, Massachusetts and in parts of New York.

Meanwhile, two Vermont ski resorts and another in Maine opened early for business.

The cold weather offered a stern challenge to the Occupy Wall Street protesters who slept overnight in Zuccotti Park. The previous day officials from the fire department had arrived to confiscate the generators that were providing protesters with warmth and power, citing the “dangerous conditions posed by the presence and/or use of flammable and combustible liquids and portable generators in a public space”.

Tents are also banned in the park, although authorities appear to have turned a blind eye to breaches of that rule in such inclement weather. “This cold really kicked some people’s butts last night,” said one protester, in a video cast from a nearby McDonald’s where he was recovering yesterday morning.

Organisers issued an appeal for all-weather tents, pallets to raise tents off the ground, tent insulation and cots, as well as gloves, wool hats, scarves and waterproof boots. They are planning to switch to bicycle generators as a source of power.
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