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Snow, shovel, repeat: East Coast digs out again

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A snow plow works to clear Route 1 near Princeton, N.J., during a winter storm Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011.

A snow plow works to clear Route 1 near Princeton, N.J., during a winter storm Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011.

Mel Evans, Associated Press

NEW YORK — Enough already.

People across the Northeast wearily shoveled their sidewalks and dug out their cars — again — after getting clobbered by the latest in a seemingly never-ending string of snowstorms, this one an overachieving mess that packed more punch than anyone expected.

"I've lived in New York 70 years, and this year is the worst I remember," said Lenny Eitelberg, 77. "It's the continuity of it. It just keeps coming. Every week there's something new to be worried about. It's almost become comical."

In the Washington area, up to 7 inches of snow renewed memories of last year's "snowpocalypse" and created chaos when it hit the nation's capital at the height of the evening rush hour Wednesday, forcing commuters into treacherous, eight-hour drives home. Even the president got caught in traffic.

New Yorkers, keeping close watch on the cleanup after a post-Christmas blizzard paralyzed the city for days, had it a little easier this time. The heaviest snow arrived overnight, when there weren't many cars and buses around to get stuck.

The forecast had called for up to a foot of snow, but the storm brought far more than that. New York got 19 inches, Philadelphia 17. Boston got about a foot, as expected. Many schools closed for a second day Thursday. Airports ground to a halt, and nearly a half-million people lost power at some point.

Virginia Sforza, 61, was indignant as she shoveled her sidewalk in Pelham, outside New York City.

"My biggest fear is if it continues like this all winter, we won't have a place to put it and we'll never get our cars out and we won't even be able to go to the stores," she said. "We had a year like this back in the '90s, but I was a lot younger. The prospect of this continuing is disgusting."

Washington-area residents, who had largely been spared heavy snow this winter after getting buried by a series of storms last year, lamented this year's encore. Around 300,000 people lost power, and motorists abandoned cars by the hundreds when pressing on proved fruitless.

In Maryland, jackknifed tractor-trailers and other stuck vehicles blocked roads and impeded snowplows.

"That's the nightmarish situation that we've been dealing with as quickly as we can," Gov. Martin O'Malley said.

Logan Nielson, 31, who works in advertising in San Francisco, described a harrowing 60-mile drive from Dulles Airport in northern Virginia to his hotel in Baltimore. What should have been no more than a two-hour trip became a nine-hour ordeal.

"It was a nightmare. ... We would sit there for 30-minute periods, not moving," he said. "You don't know: 'Am I stuck here for three hours? Am I stuck here till tomorrow?'"

After arriving Wednesday night in Washington from Manitowoc, Wis., President Barack Obama couldn't fly on the helicopter that normally takes him to the White House from a nearby military base. Instead, a motorcade had to snake through the crippled rush-hour traffic.

The federal government let 300,000 Washington-area employees go home two hours early Wednesday, sending them straight into the teeth of the late-afternoon storm. It took many people more than eight hours to get home.

The men's basketball team from Maryland's Towson University got stuck in traffic just a few miles from its game at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. The team eventually checked into hotel rooms in nearby Manassas around 1 a.m. — six hours after the scheduled tip-off. The game was rescheduled for Thursday.

Two freshmen recruited from Florida marveled at the scene, never having seen a snowstorm cripple an entire region.

"I couldn't believe it. People were getting out of their cars" in the middle of the Capital Beltway "and stopping to clear the snow off their windows," said guard Dre Conner, a native of Lauderdale Lakes, Fla.

Even old hands marveled at the continuing power of this winter, whose endless snowstorms are being helped along by a cold-air phenomenon off the coast known as the North Atlantic Oscillation.

After digging out his driveway for the "umpteenth time" and knocking some large chunks of ice off his car, Joel Davis stood outside his home in Toms River, N.J., and wondered when he would ever see his lawn again.

"I like the snow and I expect to get some living here, but this is nuts," he said. "I can't remember the last time everything wasn't snow-covered. We didn't get a white Christmas, but it seems that it's been white ever since."

New York City typically gets 21 inches of snow a winter. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the latest storm makes this January the snowiest since the city started keeping records; at 36 inches, it easily breaks the mark of 27.4 inches set in 1925. The New York area has been hit with snow eight times since mid-December.

The city, slammed for its slow response to a big storm in late December, handled this one better. It closed schools and some government offices. Federal courts in Manhattan and the United Nations shut down as well. The Statue of Liberty closed for snow removal. The Queens borough president's office got only three or four complaint calls — compared to dozens following the day-after-Christmas storm.

Bloomberg said the city benefited both from lessons learned and the storm's timing. "This time people were already home by the time the snow really got bad," he said.

Still, the city wasn't hassle-free. Dozens of passengers spent the hours from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. huddled in subway cars after their train got stuck at a Brooklyn station because of malfunctioning signals.

Two girls, ages 4 and 7, passed out from breathing carbon monoxide gas while sitting in the family car waiting for their mother to finish digging it out. The vehicle's tail pipe had apparently become clogged with snow. Both were hospitalized in critical condition but expected to survive.

The airport serving Hartford, Conn., got a foot of snow, bringing the total for the month so far to 54.9 inches and breaking the monthly record of 45.3 inches, set in December 1945.

In Massachusetts, travel was made trickier by high winds. Gusts of 46 mph were reported in Hyannis, 45 mph in Rockport and 49 mph on Nantucket early Thursday. In Lynn, Mass., heavy snow collapsed a garage roof and briefly trapped two men.

At least seven deaths were blamed on the storm, including those of a Baltimore taxi driver whose cab caught fire after getting stuck in the snow and people hit by snowplows in Delaware, Maryland and New York.

The region's major airports slowly got back up to speed after canceling hundreds of flights or closing altogether. New York's LaGuardia and Kennedy had reopened by midmorning, and passengers were flying out from Philadelphia and Washington-area airports.

Gresko reported from Washington. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Ben Nuckols in Baltimore; Ula Ilnytzky and Chris Hawley in New York; Jim Fitzgerald in White Plains, N.Y.; Bruce Shipkowski in Toms River, N.J.; and Dave Collins in Hartford, Conn.