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Massive winter storm taking toll in power outages, canceled flights -- and lives

By Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 12:55 AM EST, Fri February 14, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Power outages in 16 states and DC down to 525,000 from 625,000
  • At least 16 deaths are linked to storm, including 3 while shoveling snow in Maryland
  • Some 625,000 customers are without power; nearly 6,500 flights are canceled
  • N.C. governor says, ""We have not seen a storm like this in decades"

Are you feeling the effects of the winter storm? Share your images and stories with CNN iReport, but only if it is safe to do so.

(CNN) -- [Breaking news update, Saturday, 12:54 a.m. ET]

The number of power outages that occurred across 16 states and the District of Columbia during the latest winter storm dropped to 525,273 early Friday from a previous 625,000 late Thursday.

[Originally published story, Friday, 9:55 a.m. ET]

Massive winter storm taking toll in power outages, canceled flights -- and lives

(CNN) -- Enough already. Really.

As if the East Coast hadn't gotten the point by now, Mother Nature drove it home yet again -- that this is winter, hear it roar.

Roar it did Thursday, as a massive storm system that just finished pummeling much of the Southeast moved northward. Some of what fell from the sky was rain, some was sleet, some was snow.

Whatever it was, it made for a mess.

Vehicles are piled up in an wreck Friday, February 14, in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. Traffic accidents involving multiple tractor-trailers and dozens of cars completely blocked one side of the Pennsylvania Turnpike outside Philadelphia. Vehicles are piled up in an wreck Friday, February 14, in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. Traffic accidents involving multiple tractor-trailers and dozens of cars completely blocked one side of the Pennsylvania Turnpike outside Philadelphia.
Southeast storm moves north
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Fast-falling snow caused tractor-trailers to jackknife and prompted authorities in New York to ban commercial traffic on Interstate 84 -- a major east-west highway running through the state -- the state transportation department tweeted.

As of 9:30 p.m., the New York metro area was already buried: The National Weather Service reported up to 11 inches in the Bronx, 14 inches in Fairfield, Connecticut, and even more than that in East Rutherford, New Jersey, home to the recent Super Bowl.

And it's not like the end is near. Another round is expected to wallop the same area overnight, coming down 1 to 3 inches an hour at times. And Massachusetts' Berkshires could see 14 to 24 inches of snow before the storm runs its course.

For some, the issue isn't just the fact that there's snow: This is winter, after all, in the Northeast. But it's more that people there haven't gotten much of a reprieve.

That's why New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, opening up his press conference Thursday, said: "Welcome to winter storm six of the last six weeks."

And as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pointed out before the worst of the storm hit: "This has just been a brutal winter where it never really has gotten warmer. And so the natural melting away of snow and ice is not happening."

Especially over its full course, this storm has proven to be nothing to mess with.

At least 16 deaths have been blamed on the storm. Three of them were in Howard County, Maryland, where three men -- ages 45, 55 and 57 -- suffered suspected cardiac arrest "while in the act of shoveling snow," said county spokesman Mark Miller, who noted that what fell there was "a heavy wet snow."

There were also three deaths apiece in Texas and North Carolina, including one in a rural part of the latter due to a falling tree limb. And in the New York borough of Brooklyn, a 36-year-old pregnant woman died after being struck by a small tractor clearing snow. Her nearly full-term baby was delivered by cesarean section at a hospital and was in critical condition.

Amid such tragedy, even as people hunker down or cope without electricity, life has gone on, too.

Augusta Kalsky documented the snowy, icy, windy morass Thursday for CNN iReport, calling this system "one of the more aggressive Nor'easters" she's seen since returning to Manhattan four years ago.

At the same time, she added, "The usual drivers and pedestrians (are) attempting to go about their business as usual."

Power outages; about 6,500 flights canceled

There was nothing usual about Thursday for Aretha Williams. The Fairburn, Georgia, woman's power went out at 6 a.m. Wednesday -- her birthday, of all days. And 34 hours later, it was still out.

Over that time, she and her teenage daughter took turns going back and forth to their car to get warmed up by the engine and heater, and charge their phones. When they tried to contact the local utility, Williams says, the calls went straight to voice mail -- leaving her with no idea when her lights and heat would come back on.

"We are just frustrated," Williams said late Thursday afternoon, hours after first alerting CNN iReport to her ordeal.

Venturing out on the still slippery roads, Williams and her daughter did manage to buy lunch but couldn't find any available firewood. That's one reason why she's strongly considering trying to find somewhere warm to spend the night.

As she said, "It's too cold. I can't go through this another night with my daughter."

Unfortunately, Williams has plenty of company in being in the dark.

Some 625,000 customers -- more than half of whom were in North and South Carolina -- were without power up and down the East Coast as of 6:45 p.m. One positive was that number was down about 75,000 from a few hours earlier, indicating utilities were making progress.

Many others have other kinds of headaches, like would-be air travelers.

FlightAware, an air travel tracking website, reported around 8 p.m. Thursday that nearly 6,500 flights originating in or destined for the United States had been canceled.

Charlotte's airport in North Carolina was among the most impacted. Still, there are few along the East Coast -- from Atlanta to Washington to Philadelphia to Boston -- that haven't had their schedules turned upside down, yet again, by this winter storm.

And rail travel hasn't been immune. Amtrak has suspended some service in the Northeast, South and Mid-Atlantic regions again for Thursday.

East Coast travelers brave another nasty day

N.C. governor: 'Some people didn't take my warning'

In and around Atlanta, the storm could have been worse.

For proof, all Georgians had to do was think back two weeks ago -- when motorists ditched hundreds of cars along roads, students had to camp out overnight in school and some spent upwards of 20 hours stuck on impassable roads.

This time around, the state seemed to have learned its lesson. A combination of snow, ice and rain slammed Georgia, leading to widespread power outages. But this time, at least, people stayed off the roads.

It seemed like deja vu, though, for a time in North Carolina. There, the snow showed up fast and furious in the middle of the day on Wednesday. And when motorists hit the road, many got stuck -- with some of them even leaving their vehicles in the road and walking away altogether.

Yet Gov. Patrick McCrory, speaking Thursday to CNN, resisted comparing what happened in his state to what had happened earlier in Georgia.

He pointed out that he'd declared a state of emergency and began warning people "don't put your stupid hat on" well ahead of the storm.

"Some people didn't take my warning," McCrory said.

There were drivers who spent four to five hours in gridlock traffic but none were on the road overnight, added the governor. And by Thursday, when round two of the storm rolled through, much of the state was quiet as people hunkered down inside.

Rather than pin it on officials or citizens, McCrory suggested that the uniquely large, powerful, fast-moving storm deserved the blame for it all -- the traffic jams, the widespread blackouts, and the deadly dangerous conditions outside. In North Carolina alone, the storm was hitting in full force in five different metropolitan areas at the same time.

"We have not seen a storm like this in decades," the governor said.

Opinion: Storms could've been worse

CNN's Mariano Castillo, Christina Zdanowicz, Henry Hanks, Ed Payne, Leigh Ann Caldwell, Sean Morris, Erin McPike, Sherri Pugh, Meridith Edwards, Chelsea J. Carter, Chandler Friedman and Gary Tuchman contributed to this report.

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