DUXBURY, Massachusetts (WASHINGTON POST) – Over the past 48 hours a deadly north-east storm turned a 1,500km stretch of the East Coast into a wind tunnel, leaving millions without power, paralysing flooded cities and towns and claiming the lives of at least seven people – some of whom had tried in vain to take shelter from hurricane-force winds.
With the worst mostly over by Saturday morning (March 3), people from Maine to Georgia emerged from homes to take stock of the damage.
Some of those first glimpses came in the dark. At its peak, winds had knocked out power to more than two million people, including more than 400,000 in Massachusetts and 320,000 across the state of New York. Thousands of flights were grounded at some of the country’s busiest airports, causing a ripple effect of delays and cancellations around the world.
On the ground, highways across the north-east were clogged with tractor trailers and buses, which were prohibited from crossing some of the region’s massive bridges due to the treacherous winds. In smaller cities and towns, particularly those near the vulnerable coast, roads had turned into rivers.
The people killed during the storm include a six-year-old, who died in his bed when a tree came crashing into his family’s home in Chester, Virginia; a 72-year-old Newport, Rhode Island, man, killed by a falling tree; a 77-year-old woman in Baltimore County, Maryland, who was crushed by a tree branch while while checking the mail; and three men – one in James City County, Virginia, another in Connecticut and a third in Upper Merion Township, Pennsylvania – who were killed when trees fell on their cars.
Because of the dangerous conditions, more than 3,000 domestic and international flights were cancelled in the United States on Friday, according to FlightAware.com, most with destinations or departures in the North-east Corridor, The Washington Post reported.
About a third of those flights were at LaGuardia Airport, the East Coast’s primary transportation hub. More than 400 were cancelled at Boston Logan International Airport; another 300 were cancelled at airports in the Washington region.
Flights were suspended at LaGuardia on Friday afternoon, according to The New York Times. The Federal Aviation Administration issued temporary ground stops at Dulles for about an hour Friday afternoon because of the high winds, and, at one point, the Dulles air traffic control tower was evacuated.
One flight encountered such heavy turbulence that “pretty much everyone on the plane threw up. Pilots were on the verge of throwing up,” the pilot said in an urgent report from a regional jetliner from Charlottesville, Virginia. Amtrak also briefly suspended train service because of outages in New York City.
In other pockets, the storm dropped large amounts of precipitation, including heavy snowfall, or its winds pushed in seawater during high tides, inundating bayside neighbourhoods.
Portions of New York state received more than three feet of snow. Syracuse University cancelled a full day of classes because of snow for only the third time in its history.
First responders in Quincy, Massachusetts, spent Friday night rescuing nearly 100 people who were suddenly trapped by rising floodwaters.
“I’m fortunate to get rescued,” Christine Way-Cotter of Quincy told Boston CBS affiliate WBZ, according to CNN. “Our house is lifted so, like, nothing came into our first floor, but our whole basement is probably six feet underwater.”
Alp Yokus, 12, and his parents grew increasingly fearful as the waters rose inside their Quincy home before they were rescued by first responders.
“When it really came up, we just stayed in, hoping,” Alp told The Boston Globe. “For the first floor, some of it leaked in through the walls.”
In Duxbury, about 50km south-east of Boston, Eric Giumetti, the owner of Duxbury Pizza, reflected on 40 years of bad weather. He remembered his father-in-law keeping the pizza shop open during a 1978 blizzard, lighting the store with headlights from cars in the parking lot.
In 2018, he’s kept the lights on with a portable generator, purchased five years ago, when he thought superstorms and the ensuing blackouts would become an annual event.
He put a power strip on the wall, so people could charge their phones and told The Post he was expecting a big lunchtime crowd.“Probably everyone’s out now surveying all the damage and in another hour or two, it’ll really get going,” he said at about 11.45am. “They usually take their beach ride and then come by here to get something to eat.”
Coastal communities found themselves increasingly attuned to the tide, which was wreaking the most havoc in seaside cities.
On Friday afternoon, the tide at Boston Harbour peaked at over 4.47m, the third-highest level since authorities began keeping records in 1928. Stranded people feared there would be a similar historic high tide around midnight, causing a flooding risk in the dark as people were sleeping. But midnight’s tide was nearly 30cm lower, according to the Boston Globe.
With the winds and most of the precipitation abating, Saturday’s high tide may be the last vestige of this storm. Then, the eastern seaboard can begin to calculate the human and economic toll.
Theodore Keon, director of coastal resources for Chatham, a particularly vulnerable seaside town on the southeastern tip of Cape Cod, spent the days before the storm supervising employees hauling in tons of sand.
“I’m concerned mostly because of the duration of this event,” Keon said on Friday.
“The last two January storms, while significant in terms of water elevation, were of fairly short duration.
“When you’ve got a storm like this that sits off the coast, and you’ve got the constant pounding of the waves and high water because it’s not receding, that’s potentially more significant. Three or maybe even four high-tide cycles can really cause a lot of damage.”