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Snow blankets U.S. East; Washington offices, many schools closed

Fly fishermen Mike Gasiecki (R) and guide Dan Soper re-tie their lures on the north fork of the south branch of the Potomac River during a winter blizzard in Hopeville Canyon, West Virginia December More...
CREDIT: REUTERS/GARY CAMERON
Fly fishermen Mike Gasiecki (R) and guide Dan Soper re-tie their lures on the north fork of the south branch of the Potomac River during a winter blizzard in Hopeville Canyon, West Virginia December More... CREDIT: REUTERS/GARY CAMERON

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A fast-moving snowstorm barreled through the U.S. mid-Atlantic on Tuesday, cancelling flights, snarling roadways and shutting schools and government offices while winds kept the midsection of the country in an icy grip that killed at least 11 people.

The East Coast's first significant snowfall of the season dumped as much as 6 inches on northern Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware and southern New England, according to the National Weather Service.

By midday the storm had blown through Washington, D.C., where federal government offices were shut for the day, the Office of Personnel Management said. In neighboring Delaware, Governor Jack Markell announced state offices were shut and urged residents to stay off dangerously slick roads.

New Jersey roads were littered with fender benders and some more serious accidents, including a jack-knifed tractor trailer and a bus that skidded off the road.

"It was like dominoes. Cars couldn't get up the hills," said Stanley Jackson, who was plowing snow in northern New Jersey. "People were just sliding into one another."

In Oklahoma, the medical examiner said winter weather was responsible for 11 deaths ranging from traffic accidents on icy roads to falling into icy waters.

Snowflakes falling on Times Square in New York City thrilled tourists, including Janet Major, 57, from England.

"It's like 'Miracle on 34th Street.' It's added to the holiday atmosphere," said Major, referring to the classic Christmas movie.

Alberto Rodriguez, 45, an auto repair mechanic from Orlando, Florida, agreed.

"I'm so happy. In the four years I've been coming here, I've never seen the snow. And this is my last day in the city," Rodriguez said.

The city declared a snow alert and readied 365 salt spreaders, 282 front-end snow loaders and 1,800 plows, said Belinda Mager, spokeswoman for the city Sanitation Department.

More than 1,600 flights were canceled, most of them in Newark, New Jersey, Philadelphia and New York, according to FlightAware.com, which tracks air travel.

School districts in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, suburban Maryland, New Jersey and New York canceled classes.

The new snowfall followed a swath of snow and sleet that swept through the nation over the weekend and Monday, dumping as much as 10 inches on many areas.

Strong winds, expected to blow through the nation's midsection until Wednesday, created wind chills that made temperatures on Tuesday feel like minus 20F (minus 28C) in the Northern Plains and minus 10F (minus 23C) in the Midwest, meteorologist Andrew Baglini said on Accuweather.com.

Temperatures were 8 degrees below zero (minus 17.8 Celsius) in Pershing County, Nevada, on Tuesday morning as rescue workers searched for a couple and four young children who were reported missing on Sunday while visiting an abandoned mining camp. They were found hours later, safe and in good condition, huddled in a canyon in a remote mountain range northeast of Reno, said the Pershing County Sheriff's Office.

Homes and businesses from Indiana to West Virginia that lost power on Monday were returning to normal on Tuesday, including in Virginia where 15,000 people remained without power, down from 122,000 on Monday.

"Right now, we're looking at a lot of busted tree tops. That's always going to bring down a lot of poles and lines," said Phil Moye, spokesman for Appalachian Electric Power in West Virginia, where more than 7,500 people remained without power.

(Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner in New York, Carey Gillam in Kansas City, Ian Simpson in Washington, D.C., Heidi Brandes in Oklahoma City and Riley Snyder in Reno; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Leslie Adler, Cynthia Osterman and James Dalgleish)

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