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Storm rakes East; more than 1 million in the dark

HAMPTON, N.H. — A strong-willed winter storm that began with a whimper parked itself Friday over the Northeast, bringing hurricane-force winds, flooding and more than 2 feet of snow as it cut power to more than a million homes and businesses.

Schools were canceled as far west as Cleveland and roads closed as far south as West Virginia as the slow-moving storm spent a second day parked over the region.

The storm brought a wide array of calamity over a broad area after getting a slow start Thursday, when snow began falling in the Philadelphia region around dawn but didn't start sticking to the ground until dusk.

It turned out that snow — 31 inches in Monroe, N.Y. — was only part of the story. In the parts of coastal New England where winds caused havoc, the precipitation mostly came as rain.

Power failures were so severe and widespread in New Hampshire — 330,000 customers in the dark in a state of 1.3 million people — that even the state Emergency Operations Center was operating on a generator.

In Kennebunkport, Maine, a loud boom from a transformer early Friday awoke Michael Wiewel and cut power to his home. A short time later, a 50-foot poplar crashed on his roof above the bed where he and his wife slept.

"It sounded like a bomb going off," he said.

Throughout the area, crews were cutting fallen trees that littered yards and pounded roofs. Power lines dangled free.

The highest wind reported was 91 mph in Portsmouth, N.H. — well above hurricane force of 74 mph. Gusts hit 60 mph or more from the mountains of West Virginia to New York's Long Island and Massachusetts.

In the coastal town of Hampton, the unoccupied Surf Hotel caught fire, and the howling winds quickly spread the blaze to the rest of the block. Five wood-frame buildings, including an arcade and a restaurant, burned. The cause was unknown.

To the north in Maine, waves crashing ashore at high tide Friday morning turned beachfront streets into rivers in Saco, where storms have claimed several homes over the years.

"Felt like the walls were coming in on the house, and the windows were rattling, and the trees were cracking. It was pretty impressive," said Mark Breton, who rode out the storm in his house a few blocks from the beach.

Utility officials said in New Hampshire said it would take days before everyone's lights flickered back on.

At the peak of the outages early Friday, there were 260,000 customers without power in Connecticut, and 220,000 customers in New York, mostly in the Hudson Valley north of New York City. There were 140,000 in Maine, 100,000 in Massachusetts, 25,000 in Vermont, and 11,000 in New Jersey. Those numbers began falling Friday as crews got to work, in some places contending with toppled trees and deep snow that made it difficult to move around.

The weather also snarled traffic. A tractor-trailer jackknifed and as many as 20 trucks piled up on a mile of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, forcing closure of a 60-mile stretch in the hills of central Pennsylvania. Two injuries were reported.

Heavy snow also closed 30 miles of Interstate 84 in New York state. Snow and low visibility closed several mountain roads in West Virginia.

In Union Dale, Pa., in the Pocono Mountains, 70 students and chaperones from Calvary Christian Academy in Philadelphia stayed at a Red Cross shelter after their buses got stuck in 4-foot snow drifts as they returned from a ski trip.

They weren't expected to get home until Saturday. In the meantime, they've been helped by volunteers who provided cots and blankets for sleeping and meals including hot dogs, pizza and pancakes.

"It's amazing how much they cared for us," said 17-year-old Susan Henley, of Willow Grove.

In New York City, 17 inches of snow had fallen before dawn and more was expected. A man was killed by a falling snow-laden tree branch in Central Park, one of at least three deaths being blamed on the storm.

The weather was severe enough that the city's public schools closed for only the fourth snow day in the last six years.

Most flights were canceled for the day at the three New York-area airports. But by late morning, things began clearing up to the south, with three of Philadelphia International Airport's four runways open.

Much of the region, particularly Philadelphia and southern New Jersey, only recently finished cleaning up from a pair of storms a few weeks ago.

Even before snow began falling Thursday, Philadelphia and Atlantic City had experienced their snowiest winters on record. This time, those areas had 4 to 5 inches by midmorning Friday.

Across upstate New York and New England, it had been an unusually forgiving winter until this week.

For parts of the region, including western Vermont, snow remains in the forecast through Monday.

Mulvihill reported from Philadelphia. Also contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Chris Carola in Albany, N.Y.; Clarke Canfield in Saco; Shawn Marsh in Trenton, N.J.; Samantha Henry in Newark, N.J.; Randy Pennell in Philadelphia; Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vt.; Michael Rubinkam in Allentown, Pa.; and Kiley Armstrong and Ula Ilnytzky in New York City.