Blizzard strikes East Coast; motorists stranded for hours in Kentucky

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Corporal Brian Milore with the Pennsylvania State Police estimates about five miles of backlog of disabled motorists along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. A stretch of westbound highway from the Breezewood Interchange to New Stanton, more than 90 miles, has been closed down and a detour set in order to keep more vehicles from piling in, according to Milore. The Pennsylvania National Guard was notified and are mobilizing as of earlier this morning and all available state troopers are on the scene to help with the stranded motorists, Milore said. A larger stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike was closed across the state to commercial vehicle transport this morning at 7a, Milore said. 17-year-old Claire Jackson has been stranded on a coach bus on the turnpike since 8p Friday night in an “absolute standstill,” she said. She said her bus was about half an hour out from Breezewood, Penn., last night when they stopped – and they have started back up since. “I just see cars. All their hazard lights are blinking,” she said. Jackson is on a coach bus with about 50 students, heading from Washington, DC back home to Kansas City, Missouri. Jackson says she and the rest of the group have enough food and water but is worried that the toilet is beginning to fill up. The bus is running on diesel, Jackson said, with no fear of the gas and heat tapping out. “Basically, waking up and seeing I was in the same place as I was hours ago was just gross,” Jackson tweeted.

 A massive winter storm clobbered a huge swath of the eastern United States on Saturday, pounding cities from Washington to New York with snow and stranding hundreds of motorists from Kentucky to Pennsylvania on icy interstates.

Up to 85 million people are in the storm’s path. Officials in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast — much of which was under blizzard warnings — said Saturday morning that they’ve largely been able to avoid major problems so far. But the storm was far from done.

“We haven’t turned the corner at all,” Baltimore emergency management director Robert Maloney told CNN. “I wouldn’t say we’re even halfway there yet.”

Here are the latest developments as of 8:45 a.m. CT:

— New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the expected snowfall for parts of his state has been upped “to about 16 to 24 inches.” While things are “so far, so good” around 9:30 a.m., Cuomo said “conditions will start to deteriorate” once the center of the storm hits New York City around 11 a.m.

— Motorists have been stranded for hours along a roughly five-mile westbound stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike — from Breezewood to New Stanton, State Police Capt. Brian Milore told CNN. A larger stretch of the same road was closed to commercial traffic around 7 a.m. Saturday.

— A weather-related traffic backup on southbound Interstate 75 in Kentucky is about 35 miles long — between mile marker 76 and 41, state trooper Kendra Wilson told CNN on Saturday morning. Some people have been stuck on the highway for more than 19 hours.

— New Jersey saw some minor coastal flooding Saturday morning, though a bigger concern is snow that could fall at a rate of 2 to 3 inches an hour in some places, Gov. Chris Christie said.

— Washington Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier said things were “surprisingly quiet overnight” in her city, echoing other officials in the region. Nearby Baltimore had considerable snow but “no major issues” until a fire around 5:30 a.m. in the northeast part of the city, which led to “one serious injury,” Maloney said.

By the numbers:

1/10th of a mile visibility in Baltimore on Saturday morning due to heavy snow. Eight people dead nationwide (Six fatalities were in North Carolina, one in Virginia and one in Kentucky.) 11 states declared states of emergency. They are: Georgia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Kentucky, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia. Washington has declared a “snow emergency.” 18-40 inches of snow possible in some areas, according to meteorologists. 55 mph wind gusts are possible in Norfolk, Virginia. 989 traffic crashes and 793 disabled vehicles were responded to by Virginia State Police as of late Friday night. 9,290 flights were canceled from Friday through Sunday, according to FlightAware.com. 159,162 customers in 13 states are without power because of the storm, according to various energy companies. More than 150,000 of them are in the Carolinas. 33 million people are under blizzard warnings.

Stranded

While most people in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast stayed inside — much to the relief of public officials and first responders — major highways in Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania turned into parking lots Saturday, forcing people to stay put and try to stay warm for hours on end.

Dani Garner, her three children, her husband and her mother-in-law were stuck for hours in her minivan on Interstate 75 in central Kentucky, with long lines of similarly stranded cars and trucks in front of and behind her.

“We’ve got no food or water,” she told CNN, adding that she was thankful they had enough gas to run the heater. “Honestly, if my van wasn’t heated up I’d probably be boxed in with ice right now.”

Kentucky State Police Capt. David Jude said the stretch Garner is on had frozen over, with truck after truck after truck and cars sliding off the roadway.

“We’re going car to car now to get people off the road,” Jude said.

A similarly dire situation played out along a 5-mile westbound portion of the Pennsylvania Turnpike between Breezewood to New Stanton, State Police Capt. Brian Milore told CNN.

Claire Jackson, 17, told CNN that her bus had been at an “absolute standstill” since 8 p.m. Friday.

“I just see cars,” Jackson said, who was with about 50 students going from Washington back home to Kansas City, Missouri. “All the hazards are blinking.”

And in West Virginia, National Guard members were dispatched to help move stuck tractor trailers that blocked Interstate 77 northbound near Charleston. The state’s emergency management agency said late Friday that the highway was “completely shut down” — a status that hadn’t changed by mid-morning Saturday.

Still, none of these areas were getting the worst the storm had to offer. That honor went to the heavily populated stretch between Washington and New York City that are under blizzard warnings.

Frank McCarton, a New York City emergency management spokesman, doesn’t expect things to get any better in his neck of the woods until Saturday evening.

“This is not normal business at all, in any of these cities up and down the East Coast,” added Maloney from Baltimore. “And we’re in a different mode of operations.”

Forecast: What’s the outlook?

Snow. Lots and lots of snow.

Through noon Saturday, the forecast shows snowfall rates could potentially reach 10 inches every six hours, according to Chris Geldart of the District of Columbia’s emergency management agency.

The snow arrived in Washington Friday afternoon and quickly intensified, with a depth of 2½ feet possible by the time the last flakes fall Saturday night, Mayor Muriel Bowser said.

The storm could be the largest in Washington’s history, and will probably rank in the top five in terms of snowfall accumulation.

Baltimore may get 19-29 inches between Friday and Saturday night, according to the National Weather Service. The agency tweeted that the worst of the storm will run from 1 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Hurricane-force wind gusts will be possible Saturday along the Eastern Seaboard, with moderate flooding likely.

The wind, which could reach up to 50 mph or higher, is a big concern, as are sleet and black ice, which are affecting roads in North Carolina, according to the state’s department of transportation.

Outages, cancellations and postponements

As the storm’s impact widens as it moves north, power outages are expected to soar.

At 9:30 a.m., Duke Energy was reporting about 150,000 outages in North Carolina alone. That state was hit hard by a combination of snow, sleet, ice and strong winds, though it’s hardly the only place experiencing major disruptions.

Most airports in the Mid-Atlantic virtually were shut down. United Airlines, for instance, said operations at Dulles and D.C. metro airports were suspended, with plans to resume limited flights on Sunday night.

The ripple effect extended to Los Angeles International Airport, with 86 canceled arriving and departing flights.

Public transportation and train travel felt the storm’s effects too. Mass transit services in Washington and Baltimore have been suspended for the weekend. And some Amtrak service to and from the East Coast has either been canceled or truncated.

To top it off, the winter storm has forced the postponement of hundreds of events — including NBA games in Philadelphia and Washington, plus an NHL contest in the nation’s capital, as well as a rally for the Carolina Panthers ahead of their NFC professional football championship in Charlotte.

Though the game between the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes went on as planned, pictures from inside the arena didn’t show much of a crowd.

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