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Snow Paralyzes East, Prompts States of Emergency in Eight States

January 8, 1996

A blizzard howled into the East with a blinding fury and left much of the region paralyzed in its frozen grip, stranding travelers but delighting schoolchildren and workers who were told to stay home today.

``I think it’s gorgeous, spectacular, almost awe-inspiring,″ said Gary Peck, jogging near the White House. ``But I’m sure it’s going to be a big pain in the neck when I have to deal with it in a more practical way.″

One of the worst blizzards to hit the East in 70 years, the storm is proving more than just a pain in the neck, with parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York expected to amass up to 3 feet of snow by the end of today.

Already, 27 inches had fallen in Philadelphia, 22 in New York City. And the record 18 inches in Washington, D.C., gave government workers a non-budget-related day off.

``It’s kind of God’s revenge on the craziness of Washington, I guess,″ said John Sturdivant, head of the American Federation of Government Employees.

At least 20 deaths were blamed on the storm, thousands were left without power, and any travel _ by plane, train or automobile _ was nearly impossible.

Renault Evans of Orange, N.J., was heading to Baltimore on business Sunday when he found himself stuck in a snowbank on the New Jersey Turnpike for 5 1/2 hours. After finally getting help, he checked into a motel at the next exit.

``You gotta know when to quit,″ he said.

Major airports for Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark, N.J., and New York City shut down and converted their waiting areas into overnight shelters.

Hundreds of southbound travelers from Boston chose Amtrak after airports closed, only to find themselves stranded because of a power failure outside New York City. Officials towed the train into Penn Station after a delay of nearly three hours.

Brett Ginter made the best of the situation, letting other passengers use his cellular phone _ for a price.

``I’ve been charging beers, mostly,″ said Ginter, who drank about eight or 10 before the bar car ran out.

Passengers on an Amtrak train from Chicago to Washington, D.C. got stuck in Chicago, while a freight train derailed while plowing through drifts near Blacksburg, Va. No one was injured.

In Long Island, N.Y., a Coast Guard helicopter rescued four duck hunters and a dog from a 14-foot skiff in the Great South Bay Sunday night. The hunters became disoriented as the bay froze around them Sunday afternoon and used a cellular phone to call for help.

The storm brought snow from Georgia to New England, and as far west as Ohio. States of emergency were declared in all or parts of Kentucky, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, New York, New Jersey and Delaware, sending hundreds of members of the National Guard out to help.

In New York City, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had one message for residents: Stay home.

``This is a very, very dangerous situation,″ he said. ``Everyone can look out their window and see that.″

By nightfall Sunday many of the city’s streets were desolate, white, wind-whipped caverns.

``It looks like this storm, if everything comes through ... could very well be one of the top three storms on record,″ said meteorologist Frank Nocera.

The storm was expected to unload a record 30 inches of snow by midday in New York. The record in Central Park is 26.4 inches, set on Dec. 26-27, 1947.

Boston had received nearly 7 inches this morning and was expected to receive up to 2 feet by the end of the day.

Most state offices and schools were closed today throughout the region. New York City schools canceled classes for the first time since 1978. The United Nations was also closed.

In Toler, Ky., nurse Cindy Rogers got to work with the help of the Army National Guard, which picked her up at her house in a four-wheel-drive Humvee.

``When you get into nursing, you know you’re going to have it rough,″ she said. ``And stuff like this happens.″

The snow was good news for some people. At Furman University in Greenville, S.C., several students took the rare opportunity to go sledding.

``We Southerners aren’t used to this,″ said student Melanie Carter. ``We’re going to go get out and play in it.″

While one coast shivered, another surfed. Southern California enjoyed record heat _ 87 degrees.

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