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Brrr! East Coast Digs Out After a Ferocious Blizzard

CLEANUP crews were out in full force yesterday as residents from Maine to Florida dug their way out of the snowy aftermath of the weekend East Coast blizzard.

The howling winter storm, which left record snowfalls and packed winds up to 100 m.p.h., resulted in the death of 42 people, 18 of them in Florida, which was pounded by fierce tornadoes. Snowfall was heavy across the South, with two to three feet in western North Carolina, two feet in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, and 21 inches in eastern Tennessee.

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Roadways and airports were closed in major cities while residents coped with power outages, flooding, and hazardous driving conditions. Governors of 12 states declared emergencies.

Shelters offered a warm bed and a meal for residents throughout the eastern United States. Kim Reed and three relatives stayed in a Red Cross shelter Saturday night in Lynn, Mass., after they found themselves without electricity and heat. "We bundled up the babies and we came here [to the shelter] and I practically ran," Ms. Reed said. "But it took us about an hour to get there. The snow drifts were up to my thighs."

As the storm passed by the nation's capital, weathermen reported the lowest barometric pressure in the history of Washington - 28.56 inches, a pressure even lower than in the eye of Hurricane Hugo. Yet Washington's all-time record was soon exceeded by both Philadelphia and New York City, where the pressure later dropped to 28.43 inches.

Washington battened down like a schooner heading into a storm as the blizzard approached. Grocery stores were jammed, with long lines of shoppers and overflowing carts at checkout counters. But the city, notorious for shutting down at the first hint of snow, weathered the storm rather well. Major streets and highways were plowed and traffic kept moving.

By Sunday, the worst of the storm was over, but strong gusts picked up fallen snow and sent it swirling through neighborhoods. Farther away from Washington, in the western part of Virginia, winds kicked up snowdrifts as high as 14 feet.

New York got pounded by strong winds, snow, and sleet like the rest of the East Coast. The three major airports were closed by the storm, stranding thousands of people. A wind gust of 89 m.p.h. was recorded at Fire Island, which was evacuated because of the danger of high seas.

While the Mid-Atlantic region was hit hard, the storm's impact on New England was not as severe as some officials thought it would be.

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"It appears that the damage was not as extensive as initially anticipated," says Don Walker, disaster volunteer chairman for the Red Cross that serves the Massachusetts Bay area. "When I go back to the blizzard of '78 and some of the other major storms that we had, people [then] were unable to stay in their homes and had to be evacuated and it seems we have had fewer people in that situation [this time]."

Residents in low-lying coastal areas in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut were evacuated. In anticipation of the storm, Massachusetts Red Cross officials opened 30 shelters Saturday across the state to accommodate 3,000 to 4,000 people. But only 300 people actually used the facilities.

During the weekend, Boston residents, wind-swept and snow-covered, were intrigued by the ferocity of the howling blizzard. A few scattered shoppers, like Herrick Wales, ventured outside during the peak of the storm.

"This is the most incredible storm I've seen in my life," Mr. Wales said, toting a bag of groceries. "The snow just whips around in circles, in just all directions."

A few New Yorkers also braved the storm. Susan Bruno, a visitor from Canastota, N.Y., a suburb of Syracuse, reported that even during the height of the storm on Saturday, Zabar's, a local deli, was packed. "I couldn't believe how many people were there," she said.

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