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Rare October snowstorm wreaks havoc in Northeast

Rare October snowstorm wreaks havoc in Northeast

October 31st, 2011 in News

WAYLAND, Mass. (AP) - Hundreds of thousands of people across the Northeast shivered at the prospect of days without heat or lights after a freak October snowstorm over the weekend, and many towns postponed trick-or-treating Monday in what seemed like a mean Halloween prank to some children.

Families huddled under blankets and winter coats at home or waited out the crisis in shelters as utility crews struggled to fix power lines brought down by the storm. Hundreds of schools closed, giving youngsters one of the earliest snow days on record.

"Such a small storm but such a big disaster," said Marina Shen, who spent Sunday night with her husband and dog at a middle school in Wayland, a Boston suburb of 13,000 where half the homes lost power. Just a few inches fell in Wayland, and most of it had melted by Monday, but overnight temperatures fell below freezing.

From Maryland to Maine, high winds and wet, heavy snow brought down trees, branches and wires Saturday and Sunday. Snowfall amounts ranged from less than inch in some places to 32 inches in the small town of Peru, Mass., in the Berkshire Mountains.

The storm was blamed for at least 20 deaths, including one in Canada. Most were caused by falling trees, traffic accidents or electrocutions from downed wires. Eight people died in Pennsylvania alone.

More than 3 million homes and businesses in the Northeast lost power at the height of the storm. By early Monday night, that number was nearly 1.8 million.

Some of the same areas were hit hard by the rainy remnants of Hurricane Irene just two months ago, but in many places the utility damage was worse this time. The trees had yet to lose their leaves and captured all too much of the snow.

"The leaves on the trees have made whole trees and huge branches come down and taken down more wires," said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. "It's a huge challenge for everybody."

With the temperature rising again, the storm's effects will probably outlast the snow itself.

Christie said he expected 95 percent of the 375,000 customers in New Jersey without power to have it back by Thursday, though he knew that would be little comfort to people shivering in the dark.

"I know if you are without power today, Thursday seems like a long time from now," he said.

Companies brought in crews from other states to help, but with lights out and live wires down all over the place, many communities urged children to skip trick-or-treating or at least postpone it until later in the week.

"I was upset because I really wanted to go trick-and-treating and get candy," said 12-year-old McKenzie Gallasso of South Windsor, Conn., who was deciding whether to be a witch or a werewolf when the phone rang with the bad news that town officials were advising families to call off trick-or-treating. "This year I'll have to eat candy from my mom."

In Berlin, Mass., Glen Mair was trying to find someplace for his two children to go for Halloween after the town canceled trick-or-treating.

He said they might go to a condominium complex or a neighboring town.

"This is like a mean practical joke," he said of the storm.

In addition to ruining Halloween, the storm was turning into a budget nightmare for cities and towns already dealing the costs of Irene.

"There's no question that most municipal budgets are past bending and into breaking," said William Steinhaus, the top elected of official in Dutchess County, in New York's Hudson Valley, which got nearly 2 feet of snow. "Whether it's fuel money or overtime money or salt and sand material items, those line items are all stretched or broke at this point."

Steinhaus also questioned why the New York Department of Transportation wasn't better prepared for the storm after state police had to help more than 100 drivers who got stuck on Interstate 84 and the Taconic State Parkway early Sunday.

Dana Richardson of Malverne, N.Y., and his 82-year-old mother were stranded on the Taconic for 10 hours after setting out from their Long Island home Saturday afternoon and heading upstate to visit relatives in Rhinebeck. He said he saw only one snowplow the entire time.

Police took them to a firehouse, and they eventually were brought to a hotel, where they slept on chairs in the lobby.

"The authorities tried their best, but it seems like they were totally unprepared," said his mother, Dimitra Richardson.