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U.S. News

Winter storm cools U.S. Valentine's ardor

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Winter iced romance for millions of Americans on Wednesday as a Valentine’s Day storm disrupted the annual hearts and flowers festival from Midwestern states to the Atlantic shore and southern Canada.

“I’m afraid I’ll go out of business. I have $38,000 worth of flowers but I’ve only sold $7,000 worth,” said Karen Pell of Flowerama, a florist shop in snowy Indianapolis.

“It’s a lot slower than we had hoped,” added a disappointed Margaret Maxham, trying to sell bouquets at Emslie The Florist in Vermont’s capital, Montpelier.

For some, dining by candlelight was a cold necessity, not a romantic option. Power companies said 300,000 customers were without electricity from Virginia to New York, and outages were reported in Ohio. Just as utilities in the Mid-Atlantic states restored power, new outages struck in the Northeast.

Blizzard warnings were up for parts of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and New York.

About 70 National Guard troops were activated in Oswego County, 250 miles northwest of New York City, where about 10 feet of snow had already fallen.

Similar conditions snarled traffic and brought snowblowers out in force across much of southern Canada where officials warned that low temperatures and biting winds would freeze exposed skin within half an hour.

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While disrupted air travel may have kept some sweethearts apart, the 8 inches of snow that had already fallen in northern New England warmed hearts at snow-starved ski resorts that had been suffering through this mild winter.

“This is fantastic,” said Chris Lenois, a manager at Mount Snow in West Dover, Vermont. “We’ve been waiting for snowfall all season long and we’re finally getting a big one.”

Massachusetts authorities warned drivers of gale-force winds combined with icy roads. Police from New Jersey to Connecticut said they responded to hundreds of accidents.

“At one point this morning, we were handling about 25 accidents per hour,” said Wayne Sandford, deputy commissioner at the Connecticut Office of Emergency Management.

At the Top of the Hub, a restaurant on the 52nd floor of Boston’s Prudential Center Tower, a reservation agent said couples seemed undeterred.

“We have 400 reservations and we’ve had only 10 cancellations, and then we got 10 new reservations,” the agent said.

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Valentine’s Day, with roots in both an early Christian martyr and an ancient Roman fertility festival, was first linked to romance by Chaucer in a 1381 poem, according to some references. The exchange of cards was popularized in England not long after and the day now generates $16.9 billion in related U.S. retail sales every year.

SPREADING MISERY

The storm began spreading ice and snow misery on Tuesday from Kansas to Ohio in the north, and causing severe thunderstorms across the Gulf Coast. The trials of post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans were renewed by damaging storms and a tornado that killed one person.

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The three airports serving the Washington, D.C., area reopened after shutting down before the storm, but passengers faced long delays.

Schools closed, some for a second day, in Ohio, Maryland, Virginia and Washington. Ohio State University in Columbus, with 51,000 students, was shut.

In Chicago, skies cleared but snow clogged side streets and led officials to cancel bus service for public schools. Crews reopened a section of Lake Shore Drive -- a main thoroughfare along Lake Michigan -- closed overnight by car-high snow drifts.

Washington’s largest employer, the U.S. government, let federal workers in the capital region show up two hours late for work on Wednesday.

In nearby Maryland, residents struggled to clear driveways and sidewalks, hoping advancing cold air would not turn a slushy, snowy mix into solid ice.

“It’s like shoveling in an icy bathtub,” said Phil Andrews, a county councilman in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Additional reporting by David Morgan, Nancy Waitz and Joanne Allen in Washington; Jason Szep and Scott Malone in Boston; Scott DiSavino in New York; Andrew Stern in Chicago

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