Powerful storm hammers Massachusetts; snow drifts, coastal flooding

A powerful storm pummeled Massachusetts on Tuesday with heavy snowfall and coastal flooding in some areas, while New York City and New Jersey all but dodged what was forecast to be a crippling blizzard.

Boston’s mayor warned his city Tuesday afternoon that the massive storm had not fully passed yet.

“We’re still very much in the middle of this storm,” Mayor Marty Walsh said in a televised news conference, reporting that 700 city snowplows and pieces of snow-removal equipment had been deployed to clear the city’s streets. “I ask all the residents of Boston to be patient with us.”

Walsh said Boston schools may stay closed Thursday as the storm stretches into early Wednesday morning. He also warned residents to not walk in the streets, saying there had been reports of near-misses with snowplows and of residents skiing through the streets.

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“It’s not a time for anyone to be relaxed or complacent,” Walsh said.

Airline travel in the Northeast remained all but paralyzed, with thousands of canceled flights.

The storm has dropped more than 20 inches of snow in parts of Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire. Eastern Long Island also took a hit.

Travel bans were lifted Tuesday in New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut and some parts of Massachusetts after the storm veered east and unleashed its wrath on New England.

Flooding and power outages struck parts of Massachusetts’ coast. More than 12 million people from Long Island, N.Y., to Maine remain under a blizzard warning, according to the National Weather Service, and many schools and businesses remain closed.

Some snow drifts have reached six feet deep in Massachusetts, and the storm knocked out power to thousands of people on the island of Nantucket, Mass., including its hospital, which stayed open with the help of a generator as the storm flooded some streets.

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In Marshfield, Mass., along the coast, snow was not as much of a problem as wind and water. Ferocious ocean waves knocked out a seawall, flooding parts of the town and damaging several homes as a potentially dangerous high tide approaches around 5 p.m. EST.

“Pretty much the entire coastline is demolished,” one Marshfield resident, Joanna Freed, 28, told the Los Angeles Times in a phone interview. “Decks are completely ripped off houses, we have about three feet of standing water on the Esplanade, where there’s restaurants. The flooding has been really, really bad, there are shingles ripped off the side of houses, power lines ripped down everywhere.”

Governors and officials across the Northeast thanked residents for staying home and honoring travel bans as the storm brought less severe problems elsewhere in the region.

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“We saw no major incidents overnight,” Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said in a Tuesday morning statement. “Thank you to all the residents who are staying off the roads to keep them clear for snow equipment and emergency vehicles.”

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker asked residents to continue to respect the travel ban where it was in effect, but also encouraged residents to check on their neighbors. Rhode Island Gov. Gina M. Raimondo urged residents to stay vigilant and adhere to the travel ban as several more inches of snow were expected to add to the state’s totals in the coming hours.

In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy credited a travel ban, which will be lifted at 2 p.m. EST, for preventing hundreds of potential accidents overnight as snowfall coated the state.

“We have only had 15 accidents on our state roads,” Malloy said in a televised news conference. “That is remarkable. Under slight storm conditions, we could expect upwards of several hundred accidents. The system has worked.”

The storm brought lighter snowfall totals than expected for New Jersey and New York City, as well as a bit of grumbling that perhaps the dire warnings issued Sunday had been overblown.

The nation’s largest city, which officials virtually shut down Monday night in anticipation of anywhere from a foot to 3 feet of snow, woke up to cold temperatures and several inches of snow.

“Bottom line is, we got lucky,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, noting that the vast majority of the city received less than half of what had been predicted. “This storm was real and it was as big as it was projected to be, but it moved eastward, and thank God for that.”

The mayor defended the decision to close roads and public transit, saying the measures had kept people inside and prevented the kinds of casualties and stranded vehicles that have occurred in past storms.

“Would you rather be prepared or unprepared? Would you rather be safe or unsafe?” de Blasio said. “I will always err on the side of caution.”

Farther east, on the tip of Long Island and along the Northeastern coast, blizzard warnings remained in effect through Tuesday as a result of the storm, which moved into the area on Monday.

Marta Hamlik, the office manager at the 15-room Southampton Long Island Hotel, said snow was falling heavily and strong winds were whipping it into huge drifts. Wind had created piles of snow five to six feet deep in the hotel’s courtyard.

“The gusts aren’t helping. They’re covering everything that’s been cleared,” Hamlik said by telephone. She added: “Because of the wind gusts and the length of the storm, it’s a 24-hour storm. It’s one of the worst ones I’ve seen out here.”

The storm tracked 50 to 75 miles farther east than expected, the National Weather Service said, resulting in less snow than predicted in many areas, including Manhattan.

Snowfall totals illustrated the storm’s fickle nature. Islip Airport on Long Island, about 50 miles east of Manhattan, reported more than 20 inches of snow. La Guardia Airport, about eight miles from Manhattan, reported 11 inches, while John F. Kennedy International Airport had about 8 inches.

New York’s Central Park had 7.8 inches. Farther north, Worcester, Mass., had 25 inches of snow. The highest snowfall total for the region as of Tuesday morning was recorded in Shrewsbury in central Massachusetts, which logged more than 26 inches of snow.

The governors of New York and New Jersey also defended their decisions to impose travel bans, close schools and take public transit systems off line, saying they did it in response to dire warnings of record-breaking snow that began Sunday.

« I was being told as late as 9 o’clock last night that we were looking at 20-inch accumulations in parts of New Jersey, » Gov. Chris Christie told WABC-TV on Tuesday, after his state and New York lifted their travel bans. « We were acting based on what we were being told. »

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