UPDATE 8-Blizzard blankets U.S. Northeast; five-state emergency
* Two feet of snow expected in Boston, driving ban
* About 5,000 flights canceled
* More than 300,000 power outages across New England
* Fresh flood risk to areas recovering from Sandy
BOSTON/NEW YORK, Feb 8 (Reuters) - A blizzard slammed into the northeastern United States on Friday, snarling traffic, disrupting thousands of flights and prompting five governors to declare states of emergency in the face of a fearsome snowstorm.
Forecasters warned that about 2 feet (60 cm) of snow would blanket most of the Boston area with some spots getting as much as 30 inches (76 cm). New York was due to get about a foot (30 cm) in some areas, while heavy snowfall was also expected in Connecticut and Maine.
Winds were blowing at 35 to 40 miles per hour (56 to 64 km per hour) by Friday afternoon and forecasters expected gusts up to 60 mph (97 kph) as the evening wore on.
Driving conditions were treacherous. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick took the rare step of announcing a ban on most car travel starting Friday afternoon, while Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy closed the state's highways to all but emergency vehicles.
Hundreds of thousands of people lost power, with more than 200,000 reported outages in Massachusetts, more than 100,000 in Rhode Island, and 30,000 in Connecticut, according to local utilities.
Mass transit was also affected.
In New York City, transit officials said "suspensions in service remained a strong possibility," and Metro-North Railroad suspended some of its commuter rail service at 10 p.m.
The Long Island Rail Road partially suspended service on its Montauk branch.
Some 3,500 flights were canceled on Friday and more than 1,200 flights scheduled for Saturday were scratched, according to the website FlightAware.com.
"We're seeing heavier snow overspread the region from south to north," said Lance Franck, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton, Massachusetts, outside Boston. "As the snow picks up in intensity, we're expecting it to fall at a rate of upwards of two to three inches per hour."
Early Friday evening, officials warned that the storm was just ramping up to full strength, and that heavy snow and high winds would continue through midday on Saturday. The governors of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and Maine declared states of emergency and urged people to stay indoors.
In many cases, authorities ordered non-essential government workers to stay home, urged private employers to do the same, told people to prepare for power outages and encouraged them to check on elderly or disabled neighbors.
People appeared to take the warnings seriously. Traffic on streets and ridership on public transportation was significantly lighter than usual on Friday.
"This is a very large and powerful storm, however we are encouraged by the numbers of people who stayed home today," Boston Mayor Thomas Menino told reporters.
In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested the storm created an opportunity to relax and catch up on sleep.
Even so, the storm caused a few accidents, including a 19-vehicle pile-up outside Portland, Maine, that sent one person to the hospital.
LOOKING FOR SASQUATCH
The storm wasn't bad news for everyone.
When told an estimated 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 cm) of snow was predicted overnight at Elk Mountain in Uniondale, Pennsylvania, pint-sized skier Sophia Chesner's eyes grew wide.
"Whoa!" said the 8-year-old from Moorestown, New Jersey, who was on a ski vacation with her family. Her sister, Giuliana, 4, said no matter how good the skiing was, she had other priorities once the snow piled up.
"First thing I'm going to do is build a snowman and look for a Sasquatch footprint," Guiliana Chesner said.
The storm posed a risk of flooding at high tide to areas still recovering from Superstorm Sandy last October.
"Many of the same communities that were inundated by Hurricane Sandy's tidal surge just about 100 days ago are likely to see some moderate coastal flooding this evening," said Bloomberg.
Brick Township in New Jersey had crews out building up sand dunes and berms ahead of a forecast storm surge, said Mayor Stephen Acropolis.
Travel became more difficult as the day progressed.
Amtrak suspended railroad service between New York, Boston and points north on Friday afternoon.
Organizers of the country's championship sledding race, which had been scheduled to get underway in Camden, Maine, on Saturday, postponed the event by one day. Some 400 teams were registered for the race, which features costumed sledders on a 400-foot (121-meter) chute.
"As soon as the weather clears on Saturday and it is safe, the toboggan committee will be out at Tobogganville cleaning up the chute as quickly as they can," said Holly Edwards, chairwoman of the U.S. National Toboggan Championships.
"It needs to be shoveled out by hand."
- Search for Malaysian plane may extend to Indian Ocean - U.S |
- Russia holds war games near Ukraine; Merkel warns of catastrophe |
- New York City gas explosion subject of federal probe |
- White House tried to mediate dispute between Senate, CIA panel: source
- UPDATE 1-U.S. investigators suspect missing Malaysian plane flew for hours -WSJ