HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A winter storm that shut down much of the South churned up the coast Wednesday, dumping snow across the Northeast and saving its most brutal punch for New England, where hundreds of cars spun out and schools and businesses shut down.
Armies of plows and salt spreaders hit streets across the region to stem chaos during Wednesday morning's commute. In Connecticut, where more than 2 feet of snow had fallen in some places and it was still coming down, state police responded to about 500 spinouts, fender-benders and stranded vehicles. Four minor injuries were reported.
Despite warnings to stay off the roads, some had no choice but to go out in the storm.
Josh Clukey, 24, of Eastford, Conn., ventured out around 1:30 a.m. with his wife, Jamie, after her water broke. The drive to a hospital in Willimantic that would normally take 25 minutes lasted a harrowing hour.
"It was a little scary. It was dark and the snow was blowing all over the place. I drove really slow," said Clukey, whose son, Ryland James, was born at 8:42 a.m. "There was maybe only about 6 inches on the roads at the time, but the plows hadn't come out yet."
The storm forced hundreds of flight cancelations and snarled travel across the region, with Amtrak suspending service between New York City and Boston because of damage to the overhead power system south of Boston.
In New York, where officials took heavy criticism for their slow response to a Dec. 26 blizzard, the morning commute got off to a promising start as plows cleared streets that had been blocked for days by the last storm. Nearly 9 inches fell in Central Park, well short of 20 inches that last month's storm dumped on the city.
New England, though, appeared to be caught off guard by the ferocity of the latest storm. Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, leading the state through what threatened to be his first disaster, ordered a double shift of state troopers onto highways.
Heavy snow and gusting winds closed hundreds of schools and businesses from Maine and New Hampshire southward. In the Boston area, thunder boomed as snow fell.
"You can't see across the street. The wind and snow is blowing about 40 miles an hour sideways," said Artie Perrin, general manager at Kelly's Roast Beef in Revere, Mass., north of Boston.
Newtown, Conn., had 27 inches of snow by 9:45 a.m., and Danbury had 18 inches.
With schools and businesses closed across the state, many planned to make the most of the snow day.
"I think it's kind of cool we're getting this much snow. I haven't seen this much snow since I was little. We might go tobogganing later if the roads improve," said Debrah Allen, 21, of Milford, Conn.
In Maine, an inch of snow an hour meant snow plows had a hard time keeping up. About 70,000 households in Massachusetts lacked power, according to the state emergency management agency. About 8,700 people in Rhode Island lost power.
Every flight in and out of Boston's Logan Airport was delayed. More than 1,700 flights were canceled at the New York region's three airports, which were trying to resume normal operations Wednesday.
Officials cautioned motorists to stay off the road from the Carolinas to Maine. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick noted reports of spinouts and disoriented motorists heading the wrong way on highways.
Jennifer Honsa, the emergency department pharmacist at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, Mass., spent the night on a stretcher at the hospital to make sure she could get to work.
"I guess this comes with the territory when you work in a hospital. You have to figure you're going to be working," she said.
The snow reduced travel on many New England highways to a single lane, and the capital cities of Hartford and Providence were largely deserted except for snowplows and other equipment. Commuter rail service was suspended between New York City and New Haven, Conn., as well as on New York's Long Island.
Plows were out in force in New Jersey and in New York, which was getting hit by snow for the third time in less than three weeks, after the crippling Dec. 26 blizzard and a 2-inch dusting last week.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said crews would work even harder after criticism of how the city handled the blizzard, when hundreds of streets went unplowed, subway riders were stranded and medical calls unanswered because ambulances were unable to navigate snowy streets.
At the historic Montauk Lighthouse on eastern Long Island, caretaker Marge Winski, 53, said torrential rain pummeled the area all night before snow began falling at 6:30 a.m. with winds gusts of over 50 mph.
"It's a whiteout out there," said Winski, who lives with her 150-pound Newfoundland, Maggie Thunderpaws, in a keeper's house that's attached to the lighthouse.
The wintry weather has been blamed for at least 14 deaths and many more injuries since Sunday.
In Ohio, an athletic trainer was killed when a bus carrying members of a wrestling team from University of Mount Union collided with a snowplow. The State Highway Patrol said the 52-year-old bus passenger was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Snow and ice had already shut down much of the South for two days before the storm joined forces with another coming in from the Midwest and swept northward.
In the South, road crews lacked winter equipment, salt and sand to clear the roads, and millions of people just stayed home. Mail delivery was restricted, and many schools and other institutions closed.
Some schools remained closed Wednesday in western North Carolina as well as in Charlotte, the state's largest city. Workers reported progress clearing highways but warned many secondary roads remained dangerous because of ice.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Denise Lavoie in Weymouth, Mass., John Christoffersen in Milford, Conn., Frank Eltman in Carle Place, N.Y.; Kiley Armstrong; Sara Kugler Frazier, Chris Hawley, Karen Matthews and Ula Ilnytzky in New York; Beth DeFalco in Trenton, N.J.; Dorie Turner, Don Schanche and Errin Haines in Atlanta; Bill Poovey in Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Gary D. Robertson in Raleigh, N.C.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.