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Snow paralyses United States capital

Published:Sunday | February 7, 2010 | 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON, United States (AP):

A blizzard battered the Mid-Atlantic region yesterday, with emergency crews struggling to keep pace with the heavy, wet snow that has piled up on roadways, toppled trees and left thousands without electricity.

Officials urged people to huddle at home for the weekend, out of the way of crews trying to keep up with a storm that forecasters said could be the biggest for Washington, DC, in modern history.

Authorities blamed the storm for hundreds of accidents, including a deadly tractor-trailer wreck that killed a father and son who had stopped to help another driver in Virginia. Some area hospitals asked people with four-wheel-drive vehicles to volunteer to pick up doctors and nurses to take them to work.

A record two and a half feet (75 centimetres) or more was predicted for Washington. As of early yesterday, 10 inches (25 centimetres) of snow was reported at the White House, while parts of Maryland and West Virginia were buried under more than 20 inches (50 centimetres). Forecasters expected snowfall rates to increase, up to two inches (five centimetres) per hour through Saturday morning.

Blizzard warnings were issued for the District of Columbia, parts of New Jersey and Delaware and some areas west of the Chesapeake Bay.

"Things are fairly manageable, but trees are starting to come down," said DC fire department spokesman Pete Piringer, whose agency responded to some of the falling trees. No injuries were reported.

Airlines cancelled flights, churches called off weekend services and people wondered if they would be stuck at home for several days in a region ill-equipped to deal with so much snow.

Justifiable Panic

Becky Shipp was power-walking in Arlington, Virginia, Friday.

"DC traditionally panics when it comes to snow. This time, it may be more justifiable than most times," Shipp said. "I am trying to get a walk in before I am stuck with just the exercise machine in my condo."

A hospital fire in DC, started when a snow plow truck caught fire, sent about three dozen patients scurrying from their rooms to safety in a basement.

Shoppers jammed aisles and emptied stores of milk, bread, shovels, driveway salt and other supplies. Many scrambling for food and supplies were too late.

Metro, the Washington-area transit system, closed all but the underground rail service and suspended buses in area that heavily relies on both.