Washington faces days of clean-up after epic blizzard, billions of dollars in damages

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority employee Gene Walker uses a snowblower to clear a sidewalk.
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority employee Gene Walker uses a snowblower to clear a sidewalk. PHOTO: AFP
A man and his dog walk under the Manhattan bridge in Brooklyn on the first workday following a blizzard that set a new single-day record for snowfall in both New York and Washington DC on Jan 25, 2016.
A man and his dog walk under the Manhattan bridge in Brooklyn on the first workday following a blizzard that set a new single-day record for snowfall in both New York and Washington DC on Jan 25, 2016. PHOTO: AFP
A newly married couple walk in the snow on the first workday following a blizzard that set a new single-day record for snowfall in both New York and Washington DC on Jan 25, 2016.
A newly married couple walk in the snow on the first workday following a blizzard that set a new single-day record for snowfall in both New York and Washington DC on Jan 25, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Washington will need several more days to return to normal after a weekend blizzard dropped more than 60cm of snow along the US East Coast, likely causing billions of dollars in damage and killing more than 30 people.

The US capital was at a standstill, with federal government offices to be closed again on Tuesday, schools in the district and surrounding suburbs shut until at least Wednesday, and the US House of Representatives cancelling all votes until next week.

Washington's mayor, Ms Muriel Bowser, said city public schools would remain closed on Tuesday (Jan 26) but that city government offices would reopen. She urged people to use mass transit rather than trying to drive and park on the city's snow-clogged roads.

"We knew that we would have... several days of clean-up ahead of us," Ms Bowser told reporters. "Know that we're going to be dealing with snow all of this week."

Officials reported at least 36 storm-related deaths, including traffic accidents and heart attacks while shovelling snow in Washington, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia.

Risk Management Solutions meteorologist Jeff Waters said he could not provide specific damage estimates yet, but said the storm "could rank as one of the more significant events in recent history".

He said comparable historical storms would include the Blizzard of 1996, which caused approximately US$1.5 billion (S$2.15 billion) in economic losses and US$740 million insured losses at the time.

Reinsurance broker Aon Benfield said on Monday the storm likely caused billions of dollars in economic losses, including damage to buildings and lost business from closures.

Officials said all but one line on Washington's second-busiest subway system would resume service on Tuesday and bus services would be expanded.

High snowbanks at street corners made travel within Washington difficult for pedestrians.

Even with federal government offices officially closed, the Supreme Court was open for business, scheduled to issue rulings and act on pending appeals from the snowbound courthouse across from the US Capitol building.

Washington officials said the city has applied for federal disaster relief to help pay for the snowstorm's costs, which they did not estimate.

Ten public schools around the city opened to provide breakfast and lunch to low-income children who typically receive free meals at school, officials said.

Air travel remained seriously affected as some 1,603 US flights were cancelled on Monday, with Newark Liberty International Airport, New York's LaGuardia Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport the hardest hit, according to FlightAware.com.

New York was quicker to return to business, with the New York Stock Exchange and the city's public schools open.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told a local radio station he thought the city would face more storms of this magnitude in the future.

"We're now in the age of extreme weather. You know, this is what climate change has done to us. These storms are much bigger than what we've seen in the past," Mr de Blasio said.