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Howling blizzard slams Boston area; New York mostly spared

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Water floods a street on the coast in Scituate, Mass., Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. A storm packing blizzard conditions spun up the East Coast early Tuesday, pounding parts of coastal New Jersey northward through Maine with high winds and heavy snow. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
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BOSTON >> Its winds howling at more than 70 mph, the Blizzard of 2015 slammed Boston and surrounding parts of New England on Tuesday with none of the mercy it unexpectedly showed New York City, piling up more than 2 feet of snow.

The storm punched out a 40-to-50-foot section of a seawall in Marshfield, Massachusetts, badly damaging a vacant home. In Newport, Rhode Island, it toppled a 110-foot replica of a Revolutionary War sailing vessel as the ship lay in drydock, breaking its mast and puncturing its hull.

The blizzard’s force and relentlessness stunned even winter-hardened New Englanders.

“It’s a wicked storm,” Jeff Russell said as he fought a mounting snowdrift that was threatening to cover one of the windows of his home in Scarborough, Maine.

The snow in New England began Monday evening, continued all day Tuesday and was not expected to ease until late evening. And the bitter cold could hang on: The low temperature Wednesday is expected to be 1 degree, and forecasters said the mercury will not climb above freezing for the next week or so.

Much of the Northeast — particularly the Philadelphia-to-Boston corridor of more than 35 million people — had braced for a debilitating blast Monday evening and into Tuesday after forecasters warned of a storm of potentially historic proportions.

The weather lived up to its billing in New England and on New York’s Long Island, which also got clobbered. National Weather Service director Louis Uccellini said the storm may prove to be one of the biggest ever in some parts of Massachusetts.

But in the New York City area, the snowfall wasn’t all that bad, falling short of a foot. By Tuesday morning, buses and subways were up and running again, and driving bans there and in New Jersey had been lifted.

The glancing blow left forecasters apologizing and politicians defending their near-total shutdown on travel. Some commuters grumbled, but others sounded a better-safe-than-sorry note and even expressed sympathy for the weatherman.

“I think it’s like the situation with Ebola: If you over-cover, people are ready and prepared, rather than not giving it the attention it needs,” said Brandon Bhajan, a security guard at a New York City building.

Uccellini told reporters that the weather service should have done a better job of communicating the uncertainty in its forecast.

In New England, nearly 21 inches of snow coated Boston’s Logan Airport by early afternoon, while nearby Framingham had 2 1/2 feet and Worcester 26 inches, according to unofficial totals. The town of Lunenberg, Massachusetts, reported 33 inches.

At least 30,000 homes and businesses were without power in the Boston-Cape Cod area, including the entire island of Nantucket.

A 78 mph wind gust was reported on Nantucket, and a 72 mph one on Martha’s Vineyard.

“It felt like sand hitting you in the face,” Bob Paglia said after walking his dog in Whitman, a small town about 20 miles south of Boston.

Providence, Rhode Island, had well over a foot of snow. Sixteen inches had piled up in Portland, Maine, and 23 inches in Waterford, Connecticut. Montauk, on the eastern end of Long Island, got about 2 feet.

“It feels like a hurricane with snow,” said Maureen Keller, who works at an oceanfront resort in Montauk.

Around New England, snowplows struggled to keep up, and Boston police drove several dozen doctors and nurses to work at hospitals.

Snow blanketed Boston Common, and drifts piled up against historic Faneuil Hall, where Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty stoked the fires of rebellion. Flooding was reported along some coastal communities.

Officials in cold-weather cities are keenly aware of the political costs of seeming unprepared or unresponsive to snow, and the blizzard poses an early test for Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who took office three weeks ago. Boston Mayor Martin Walsh just finished his first year in office.

“So far, so good,” Tufts University political science professor Jeffrey Berry said. “What’s important for a governor or a mayor is to appear to be in charge and to have a plan to finish up the job and to get the city and the state back to work.”

As the storm pushed into the Northeast on Monday, the region came to a near standstill, alarmed by forecasters’ dire predictions. More than 7,700 flights were canceled, and schools, businesses, government offices and transit systems — including the New York City subway — shut down. But as the storm pushed northward, it tracked farther east than forecasters expected.

“This is nothing,” said Susanne Payot, a cabaret singer in New York whose rehearsal Tuesday was canceled. “I don’t understand why the whole city shut down because of this.”

While Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey had been warned they could get 1 to 2 feet of snow, New York City received just under 10 inches, and Philadelphia a mere inch or so. New Jersey got up to 10 inches.

“You made a lot of tough decisions expecting us to get it right, and we didn’t. Once again, I’m sorry,” National Weather Service forecaster Gary Szatkowski tweeted in Mount Holly, New Jersey.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie defended his statewide ban on travel as “absolutely the right decision to make” in light of the dire forecast. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city will look at whether storm procedures could be improved, but added: “You can’t be a Monday morning quarterback on something like the weather.”

___

Lavoie reported from Whitman, Massachusetts. Associated Press writers Patrick Whittle in Portland, Maine; Michelle R. Smith in Providence; Rhode Island; Mark Pratt and William J. Kole in Boston; Pat Eaton-Robb in Columbia, Connecticut; Jennifer Peltz, Kiley Armstrong, Ula Ilnytzky and Verena Dobnik in New York City; Shawn Marsh in Trenton, New Jersey; Jill Colvin in Jersey City, New Jersey; and Geoff Mulvihill in Haddonfield, New Jersey; and Sean Carlin, Michael Sisak and Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

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