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Record snow continues to fall as deadly East Coast storm lingers

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Winter wallop
  • Nor'easter blankets heavily populated Interstate 95 corridor from Tennessee to New England
  • Weather strands air and rail passengers, snarls roads, delays football games
  • With up to 22 inches of snow expected in some areas, storm could rival 1922 Knickerbocker blizzard
  • Three deaths in Virginia blamed on massive storm

(CNN) -- A major snowstorm slammed the East Coast and snarled the busy holiday travel season Saturday as airports shut down runways, rail service slowed and bus routes were suspended on the last weekend before Christmas.

Record snowfall totals were reported Saturday afternoon at Washington Dulles and Reagan National airports -- and snow was still falling. Accumulation at Dulles reached 16 inches, breaking the old record of 10.6 inches set December, 12, 1964; 13.3 inches was reported at Reagan. The old record there was 11.5 inches set December 17, 1932.

Three deaths in Virginia were blamed on the storm, state officials said. One person was killed late Friday in a single-car crash. Two other deaths were reported Saturday as more heavy snow was expected.

Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine authorized up to 1,000 National Guardsmen to assist in responding to the storm, which dumped more than 20 inches of snow in parts of the state by Saturday evening. Virginia State Police had responded to nearly 3,000 accidents or disabled vehicles since Friday night, the governor's office said.

The storm stretched from Tennessee and North Carolina to the southern New England states, blanketing the mid-Atlantic region and the heavily populated I-95 corridor. The forecast called for 12 to 22 inches of snow in some areas. See current flight delay information on the FAA Web site

CNN meteorologist Karen Maginnis said the storm -- known as a nor'easter -- could rival the Knickerbocker blizzard of 1922, which dropped between 28 and 33 inches of snow in the D.C. area.

"I don't know that it will be a record-breaker, but this is significant," she said. "This is a really bad storm right now."

The foul weather prompted an emergency declaration in the nation's capital, stranded hundreds of motorists, shut down airports, caused power outages, and threatened to keep hordes of Christmas shoppers indoors.

The weather delayed start times for two National Football League games Sunday. The Chicago Bears-Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers-Philadelphia Eagles games will be played at 4:15 p.m. instead of 1 p.m.

Chicago Bears players and staff were scheduled to arrive in Baltimore via a charter late Saturday night, after a single runway was opened at BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport. That runway is expected to remain open for all flights, a spokesman for the Maryland Aviation Airport Authority said.

A winter storm warning was in effect for the Washington area until 6 a.m. Sunday. Blizzard warnings were issued for New York's Long Island and parts of southern New England with forecasters predicting whiteout conditions due to high winds.

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"I strongly urge everyone to stay at home and off the roads," said Michael Cline, state coordinator for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. "There are hundreds of vehicles abandoned or stuck on roads. There is already one to two feet of snow on the roads, and snow is still falling."

Similar warnings were issued by state officials up and down the East Coast.

Parts of U.S. 29, I-77 and I-81 were closed and hundreds of bus passengers were stranded at a terminal in Washington as nearly 300 routes were canceled from New England to Jacksonville, Florida, Greyhound Bus Lines spokeswoman Maureen Richmond said. Travelers stuck at Greyhound terminals are being made comfortable with assistance from the Red Cross and Salvation Army, Richmond said. See traffic and road closure information on the U.S. DOT Web site

The storm also affected rail service. Passengers aboard an Amtrak train that originated in New Orleans on Friday morning sat outside Alexandria, Virginia, for more than five hours Saturday afternoon.

The train had full power, and passengers were being given food and drinks throughout the ordeal, Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham said.

She expected the train to pull into Washington Saturday night. Trains were running 30 to 60 minutes behind schedule early Saturday, and 60 to 90 minutes later in the day.

Meanwhile, more than 400 people hunkered down in 20 shelters across Virginia. A Virginia National Guard spokesman said it is working with other agencies to transport stranded motorists to shelters, and is getting food and water to people stuck in their vehicles.

As snow continued to fall in the mid-Atlantic states, folks in western North Carolina were digging out Saturday from the powerful storm. More than 50,000 were without power in Asheville's Buncombe County after more than a foot of snow fell in the mountains. Crews were traveling from Kentucky and South Carolina to help restore power, a spokeswoman for Progress Energy told CNN affiliate WLOS.

In Washington, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said the storm is "perhaps the biggest we've seen in several years."

"We are going to throw everything we have at it to keep the district open for business on this busy pre-holiday weekend," Fenty said when he announced the snow emergency.

But, he also urged residents to stay in their homes.

"This snow should end early tomorrow morning with a 24-hour cleanup. We should have a lot of streets ready to go by rush hour Monday. And, hopefully, all of it done between Monday and Wednesday."

Nine people were taken to a hospital after a bus and a city snow plow collided, a D.C. fire official said. The injuries are not considered serious.

The storm also halted above-ground Metrorail operations in the district because of heavy snowfall covering the electrified third rail, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority said.

Trains were shifted to underground travel, and the underground Metrorail stations will remain open until 3 a.m., the normal closing time for a Saturday night.

In West Virginia, Gov. Joe Manchin on Saturday declared a state of emergency and "authorized the use of the National Guard to assist with snow removal and emergency assistance and operations."

West Virginia is working to help stranded motorists, clear roadways, and restore power outages, Manchin said in a statement.

In Massachusetts, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino declared a snow emergency beginning at 10 p.m. Forecasters are predicting up to 15 inches of snow with 30 mph winds between Saturday night and late Sunday morning.

Crews were standing by with snow removal equipment and salt, and the city's emergency homeless shelters will be open "throughout the day and evening."

While the storm caused chaos for weekend travelers and shoppers, UPS spokesman Norman Black on Friday said shipped packages shouldn't be delayed.

"The good thing for us and our competitors is that this is happening on a weekend," Black said.

He said that packages set for Monday delivery were on planes that landed and offloaded Friday night.

UPS never has packages in motion on a Sunday, even the Sunday before Christmas. And because Saturday volume is usually light -- because delivering on Saturday is a premium service -- Black expected few problems.

That is, unless the roads are still a mess and airports aren't cleaned by Monday.