A massive blizzard that began dumping snow on the southern and eastern United States, spurring mass flight cancellations and causing seven states to declare a state of emergency, has killed nine people, according to the New York Times on Saturday.
The deaths occurred on the roads, it said.
More than two feet of snow was predicted for Washington alone by the end of the day on Saturday, according to the Press Association.
The National Weather Service said the winter storm could rank near the top 10 to hit the region.
Meteorologist Paul Kocin compared it to “Snowmageddon,” the first of two storms that “wiped out” Washington in 2010, but he said the weekend timing could help limit deaths and damage.
“It does have the potential to be an extremely dangerous storm that can affect more than 50 million people,” said Louis Uccellini, director of the weather service.
The snowfall, expected to continue into Sunday, could easily cause more than 1 billion dollars in damage and paralyse the eastern third of the nation, he said.
Uccellini said all the elements have come together to create a blizzard with brutally high winds, dangerous inland flooding, white-out conditions and even the possibility of thunder snow, when lightning strikes through a snowstorm.
Two feet or more of snowfall is forecast for Washington and Baltimore, and nearly as much for Philadelphia. New York City’s expected total was upped on Friday to a foot or more.
A state of emergency was declared in Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, New Jersey and parts of other states.
Blizzard warnings or watches were in effect along the storm’s path, from Arkansas through Tennessee and Kentucky to the mid-Atlantic states and as far north as New York.
As far south as Atlanta, people were urged to go home and stay there.
Schools and government offices were closed, thousands of flights were cancelled and millions of people stocked up on supplies. College basketball games and concerts in the region were postponed.
Flight tracking service FlightAware said airlines cancelled about 7,600 flights on Friday and Saturday, about 15% of the airlines’ schedules. By Sunday afternoon, airlines hope to be back to full schedule.
Washington’s subway system said it will remain closed through Sunday. About 1,000 track workers will be deployed to keep New York City’s underground system moving and 79 trains will have “scraper shoes” to reduce the icing on the rails.
The government closed offices at noon Friday. The president’s spokesman Josh Earnest said Barack Obama would hunker down at the White House.
The US Capitol Police said sledging on Capitol Hill, which only recently became legal after an act of Congress, would be welcome for the first time in decades.
In Washington, Baltimore, and Delaware, archdioceses reminded people that dangerous travel conditions are a legitimate excuse for missing Sunday Mass.