WASHINGTON — What a difference a day makes. Residents in many East Coast cities were digging out beneath blue skies on Sunday after whipping winds and a massive blizzard clobbered the region. But top officials warned that danger lingered even as the storm headed out into the Atlantic Ocean.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said that dropping temperatures still pose a risk.
“We will see continued slick and dangerous roadways, so continue to stay off the road,” she told reporters Sunday evening.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said her city had experienced a “historic snow event.”
“I’m asking for residents to continue to be patient. … A record amount of snow must be removed,” she said.
In New Jersey, some residents said they were reeling from flooding that was worse than devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy.
“There was much more water. … Everybody was affected. It was bad,” said Keith Laudeman, who owns a restaurant in Cape May, New Jersey.
The storm killed at least 15 people, grounded thousands of flights and shut down travel in many of the nation’s largest cities.
As cleanup continues, U.S. federal government offices in the Washington area will be closed on Monday, officials said.
One of the hardest-hit locales was Glengary, West Virginia, a small town about 85 miles northwest of Washington, which preliminary figures show received 42 inches of snow.
Other notable snowfall totals came at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (31 inches), Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (29.2 inches, a record), Washington Dulles International Airport (28 inches), Newark, New Jersey (28 inches), New York’s Central Park (26.8 inches, the second-highest total since 1869) and Philadelphia (22 inches).
But snow wasn’t the only product of the storm. Dewey Beach, Delaware, and Virginia’s Langley Air Force Base both reported 75-mph winds, just over hurricane force.
While areas worked to return life to normal, the Long Island Rail Road, which “sustained significant damage during the storm,” remained down, and officials in New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia warned that pooling water could refreeze, complicating Monday morning commutes.
‘Like a tsunami’
Jason Pellegrini woke up Saturday morning at his home in Sea Isle City, New Jersey, expecting to see flooding. It eventually came.
“I heard commotion out my window, and I looked and I saw the raging water,” he said. “It came in to the low-lying areas, and it rushed fast.”
The restaurant that Pellegrini owns was damaged during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, but he says this surge came from the back bay rather than from the ocean.
Coastal flooding remains a big concern for much of New Jersey because of the timing of the storm.
“I expect our town to be under considerable water,” Pellegrini said.
After Sandy, sand dune walls were built to help keep water from flooding ashore.
They worked well during this storm, helping to push back waves that were as high as 20 feet, said Vincent Jones with the Atlantic County Office of Emergency Preparedness.
“They are basically the first line of defense,” he said.
Tide catches residents off guard
Margate City, just down the coast from Atlantic City, was also affected.
“In a lot of our business areas and our back bay areas, water is coming over the bulkhead in a lot of the same areas as [Superstorm] Sandy hit,” Lt. Matt Hankinson of the Margate City Police Department said. “Some areas I would say it’s thigh- to waist-deep.”
Farther south in North Wildwood, the high tide was much higher than anticipated and caught many of the town’s 5,000 year-round residents off guard — with flooding levels that actually exceeded those during Sandy, said Patrick Rosenello, the city’s mayor.
“We had a lot of evacuations, a lot of people who had stayed in their homes not anticipating this, needing to be rescued,” Rosenello said.
Most of the city was without electricity, he said, and the phones at the emergency dispatch center were jammed all day.
“There’s going to have to be major renovations,” Rosenello said.
At least 15 people have died as a result of the storm — six in North Carolina, three in Virginia, one in Kentucky, three in New York City, one in Maryland and one in Washington. Officials have cited a higher collective death toll, but CNN has not been able to confirm the individual reports and it’s unclear if all reports of death are related to weather.
In Washington, chief medical examiner Dr. Roger Mitchell Jr. said an 82-year-old man who died while shoveling snow was the city’s first storm fatality.
“The message is, surrounding shoveling, to take breaks, to make sure that you hydrate, to make sure that you’re checking on your neighbors. Volunteer to shovel their walkway,” he told reporters.
Officials in New York and Baltimore and Washington also said there were reports of people dying while shoveling snow.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the blizzard will almost certainly rank among New York City’s “top five snowstorms” in recorded history in terms of snow accumulation.
Traffic a mess
Hundreds of motorists faced the storm’s wrath stuck on highways.
Road accidents Friday night caused a seven-mile backup involving around 500 vehicles on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, a state police spokeswoman said.
In central Kentucky, some drivers were stranded along a 35-mile stretch of Interstate 75 for as long as 19 hours, from Friday afternoon to Saturday morning.
And as many as 200 vehicles were stuck on Interstate 77 in West Virginia, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.
Power outages and flight cancellations
As of early Sunday morning, more than 74,000 customers were without power as a result of the storm, most in North Carolina. And more than 8,000 flights were canceled on Saturday and Sunday, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware.com.
Mass transit services in Washington and Baltimore were suspended for the weekend, and some Amtrak service to and from the East Coast was canceled or truncated.
A travel ban was in effect on all roads in New York City and Long Island on Saturday, but was lifted at 7 a.m. Sunday.
Broadway, where Saturday shows were canceled as the blizzard raged, also saw its electricity restored and all shows scheduled for Sunday will be performed as planned, according to The Broadway League.
“The show must go on,” League president Charlotte St. Martin said in a statement.