Two charged in deadly COVID-19 outbreak at Massachusetts veterans’ home

(Reuters) – Two people were indicted for their alleged role in a COVID-19 outbreak at a Massachusetts veterans’ home that contributed to the deaths of at least 76 residents, the state’s attorney general announced on Friday.

A grand jury on Thursday indicted superintendent Bennett Walsh and David Clinton, the former medical director of the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, on charges of criminal neglect related to their work at the facility.

“We allege that the actions of these defendants during the COVID-19 outbreak at the facility put veterans at higher risk of infection and death and warrant criminal charges,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement.

Healey said the charges stem from the two individuals’ roles in decision-making at the home that led to the consolidation of two dementia units into one.

The move placed symptomatic residents, including some who had tested positive for the coronavirus, and asymptomatic residents in close proximity,” increasing the exposure of asymptomatic veterans to the virus,” officials said.

“We believe this is the first criminal case in the country brought against those involved in nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Healey told a news conference.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani, additional reporting by Peter Szekely, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Quarantine or not, tourists still flock to New Mexico

By Andrew Hay

RED RIVER, N.M. (Reuters) – In the New Mexico mountain resort of Red River, tourists from Texas stroll along Main Street, most disregarding Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s orders they quarantine and wear masks.

It’s the same in other New Mexican tourist towns such as Taos and Santa Fe, except nearly all their visitors wear face coverings – surrounded by signs warning of fines if they don’t.

Like governors in at least 15 states, Democrat Lujan Grisham has ordered out-of-state tourists to self-isolate, citing data that about one in 10 of New Mexico’s spiking COVID-19 cases comes from visitors.

Enforcing the orders is proving difficult, given the lack of a national plan, police reluctance to take on the massive task, and Americans’ penchant for driving hundreds or thousands of miles to vacation, even in a pandemic.

A U.S. road trip this summer means navigating through a patchwork of quarantine regulations across various states, most of them voluntary.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut require travelers from 19 states with high COVID-19 infection rates to self-quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. New York imposes fines.

Hard-hit Florida requires travelers from those three states to self-isolate for 14 days whether arriving by plane or car, or face a $500 fine.

Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Vermont all have varying self-isolation rules.

‘TAKING AWAY OUR LIBERTY’

New Mexico published newspaper ads in neighboring Arizona and Texas, states respectively reporting 27% and 18% positive coronavirus test rates, urging their residents not to visit. Health experts consider a 5% rate to be worrisome.

But tourists keep coming.

“I think it’s bullshit. They’re saying the masks should work, so why should you be quarantined?” said Chris Fry, 59, a feed company manager from Dimmitt, Texas, staying in his cabin near Red River and stopping in town for ice before going fishing.

A 45-minute drive south in Taos Plaza, Louisiana tourist Christy Brasiel was frustrated the historic Native American community was closed to visitors and compared Lujan Grisham’s rules to “communism or socialism.”

“They’re taking away our liberty,” said Brasiel, 49, staying in an Airbnb rental to avoid her voluntary quarantine order enforced by local hotels that turn away out-of-state visitors.

As in cities across New Mexico, police in Red River have yet to issue citations for non-compliance to COVID-19 rules, said Mayor Linda Calhoun, a Republican, adding that she is encouraging businesses to require masks.

“We live off of tourists, that’s all we have, so it’s very difficult for us to enforce the order,” Calhoun said of the quarantine rule in her town nicknamed “Little Texas” for the number of visitors from that state.

Many locals in Taos County, where COVID-19 cases have doubled in the last month, are dismayed by the rule breaking.

“It doesn’t make any sense to be so selfish,” said lawyer Maureen Moore, 67.

“WE DON’T WANT YOU HERE”

Only three weeks ago, as outbreaks raged across the U.S. Sunbelt, New Mexico reported stable or declining daily cases.

A poor state with limited hospital capacity, New Mexico used early, tough restrictions to curb the pandemic.

But with its positive test rate rising above 4%, Lujan Grisham has scolded New Mexicans for letting down their guard since she eased restrictions on June 1, and on Monday re-closed indoor restaurant dining.

On a shortlist as a running mate to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Lujan Grisham has also rounded on tourism, the state’s second-largest industry.

“We don’t want you here now,” she told potential visitors in a July 9 press briefing, taking special aim at Texans. “I want you to stay in Texas.”

Lujan Grisham said New Mexico State Police would “aggressively” enforce her quarantine and mask orders. The force has handed out 13 verbal warnings for mask violations but none for quarantine non-compliance, a spokeswoman said on Monday.

The rules are piling pandemic pain on businesses in the state. Standing outside his Red River supermarket, business owner Ted Calhoun said Lujan Grisham had gone too far.

“Ordering visitors to do a 14-day quarantine is killing the tourist industry of New Mexico,” said Calhoun, the mayor’s husband.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Red River, New Mexico; editing by Bill Tarrant, Tom Brown and Alistair Bell)

15 U.S. states to jointly work to advance electric heavy-duty trucks

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A group of 15 U.S. states and the District of Columbia on Tuesday unveiled a joint memorandum of understanding aimed at boosting the market for electric medium- and heavy-duty vehicles and phasing out diesel-powered trucks by 2050.

The announcement comes weeks after the California Air Resources Board approved a groundbreaking policy to require manufacturers to sell a rising number of zero-emission vehicles, starting in 2024 and to electrify nearly all larger trucks by 2045.

The 14 states said the voluntary initiative is aimed at boosting the number of electric large pickup trucks and vans, delivery trucks, box trucks, school and transit buses, and long-haul delivery trucks, with the goal of ensuring all new medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sales be zero emission vehicles (ZEV) by 2050 with a target of 30% ZEV sales by 2030.

The states include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Vermont.

The states committed to developing a plan within six months to identify barriers and propose solutions to support widespread electrification, including potential financial incentives and ways to boost EV infrastructure.

Trucks and buses represent 4% of U.S. vehicles, but account for nearly 25% of greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.

California’s mandate will put an estimated 300,000 zero-emission trucks on the road by 2035. California’s planned rules will initially require 5%-9% ZEVs based on class, rising to 30%-50% by 2030 and nearly all by 2045.

The push comes as a rising number of companies – including Rivian, Tesla Inc., Nikola Corp., and General Motors work to introduce zero emission trucks.

Major businesses like Amazon.com, UPS and Walmart have also said they are ramping up purchases of electric delivery trucks.

California later plans to adopt new limits on nitrogen oxide emissions, one of the major precursors of smog, as well as require large fleet owners to buy some ZEVs.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Tom Hogue)

Life Care fired staffer who revealed nursing home nightmare to Reuters

By Chris Kirkham

(Reuters) – A nursing home owned by Life Care Centers of America Inc has fired one nurse and banned another from the premises after the two were quoted in a Reuters investigation detailing horrific conditions, a staff exodus and a botched management response to the facility’s deadly COVID-19 outbreak.

Life Care terminated one of the nurses, Colleen Lelievre, last week after managers at the Littleton, Massachusetts, home accused her of making clerical errors involving narcotics for residents. She said she had not been told of any issues until June 12, two days after publication of the Reuters report. Another nurse, Lisa Harmon, said a manager barred her from the building the same day, without explaining why.

“I don’t know how they think that they’re just blatantly doing this and getting away with it,” said Harmon, a supervisor.

The Reuters report included interviews with Lelievre and Harmon describing an overwhelmed and overworked staff. In one instance, so many workers had quit or called in sick that managers assigned a teenage nursing-assistant trainee to a shift caring for nearly 30 dementia patients, Harmon and a former worker said. Eighty- to ninety-hour weeks became the norm, the two nurses said. In a dementia unit, workers were unable to keep residents from wandering into hallways and other patients’ rooms, potentially spreading infection.

The two nurses also said management left staff in the dark about the outbreak and didn’t provide staff testing until mid-May. Thirty-four workers had tested positive by that month’s end, federal data shows. Twenty-five residents and one nurse died of COVID-19. (To read the Special Report, click here )

Amy Lamontagne, the facility’s executive director, denied that she fired Lelievre for talking to Reuters. Lamontagne said Harmon has not been terminated but that administrators wanted to meet with her to discuss concerns she raised in the article. Harmon said she hasn’t been paid since being barred from the facility.

An undated handout photo of nurse Lisa Harmon who was barred from entering her workplace at the Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley in Massachusetts, days after being quoted in a Reuters article detailing a staff exodus and a botched management response to the facility’s deadly coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. Lisa Harmon/Handout via REUTERS

Lamontagne said she terminated Lelievre for errors in “the administration and documentation of narcotics.” Lamontagne declined to detail that lapse and would not address why she hadn’t raised the problem with Lelievre until after the Reuters article ran. She said the facility started investigating Lelievre two days before the article ran.

“The timing of it is poor,” Lamontagne said.

A spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Attorney General, told by Reuters of Life Care’s actions against the nurses, said “we take allegations of workplace retaliation very seriously.”

Spokeswoman Chloe Gotsis added that the attorney general is already scrutinizing the facility’s management of the crisis: “We have an active and ongoing investigation into the Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.”

U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan, who represents the Littleton area, said the nursing home put its own interests above patient and staff safety.

“If the corporate leadership of Life Care Centers of America showed as much concern for residents and workers at their facility in Littleton as they do for their public image and self-preservation, lives could have been saved,” Trahan said. “Shameful behavior like whistleblower retaliation is often used to cover up wrongdoing.”

Life Care is among the largest U.S. nursing home operators, with more than 200 homes. Company President Beecher Hunter did not respond to requests for comment. Company spokesman Tim Killian declined to comment on the alleged retaliation and did not answer questions about whether corporate higher-ups directed or knew about the actions against the nurses.

Life Care also presided over one of the first and deadliest U.S. outbreaks of the coronavirus at its nursing home in Kirkland, Washington – with 45 deaths linked to the facility, according to local public health authorities. (For a story on the Kirkland outbreak, click here)

In its investigation, Reuters interviewed several other workers and former workers at the home, who also detailed mismanagement, staff shortages and lapses in care. But Lelievre and Harmon were two of three current employees who agreed to have their names published, and both nurses were quoted more extensively than the third worker.

The facility never restricted Lelievre’s access to drugs before she stopped working, Lelievre said. At the time of the alleged paperwork errors, Lelievre said, she had been working 16-hour days during the outbreak and in one case worked 24 hours because no one else could fill shifts.

Harmon, the nurse supervisor, said if paperwork mistakes during the outbreak are grounds for termination, then “every nurse in that building should be fired.”

Harmon herself contracted COVID-19 during the outbreak and used 10 days of accrued sick time because the company offered no additional paid days to workers who contracted the disease.

Lamontagne said Harmon never addressed staffing issues with management before speaking to Reuters, “even though that’s her supervisory role to bring it up through a chain of command.”

Harmon said she raised concerns about staffing shortages many times with Lamontagne and other administrators, often telling them the home had no nursing assistants on certain shifts.

“The whole time, I have been begging for help,” Harmon said. “How much more do you need to know that the staffing is horrible?”

(Reporting by Chris Kirkham; Editing by Brian Thevenot)

Thanksgiving leftovers: Storm serves U.S. Northeast second helping of snow

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A vast wintry storm that has been raging across the United States since before Thanksgiving served a second helping of snow to the Northeast on Monday, closing offices and threatening to disrupt the evening rush-hour commute.

Alternating rain and snow showers were forecast to switch completely to snow, piling up by the workday’s end to 1 to 3 inches in New York and 4 to 6 inches in Boston, said meteorologist Bob Oravec of the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

Heavier snow totals were expected in upstate New York, Pennsylvania, northwestern New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, southern Vermont, southern New Hampshire and Maine, with some areas already receiving 1 foot of snow, Oravec said.

“When it’s all said and done, some areas will have over 2 feet of snow from this storm, especially over parts of the Poconos and Catskills,” Oravec said of the mountain regions.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo directed all non-essential state employees in the capital region to stay home on Monday. State offices in New Jersey opened as usual on Monday, but New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said all non-essential workers should head home at noon due to weather conditions.

Travel glitches on U.S. flights began mounting throughout the morning, with most of the 1,500 cancellations and delays posted by late morning at airports in San Francisco, Albany, Boston, Chicago and Newark.

The storm that started on the West Coast ahead of Thanksgiving, the busiest U.S. travel holiday, slowly rolled across the entire country, drenching some areas with rain, blanketing others with snow and blasting still others with winds. Three tornadoes were reported northwest of Phoenix.

“It’s uncommon to have a tornado in Phoenix, but it’s not uncommon to have multiple types of weather with a big winter storm like that,” Oravec said.

The storm was expected to linger in New York until just before sunrise on Tuesday, in Boston until early Tuesday afternoon and in Maine until Wednesday morning.

“There have been huge impacts from the storm since it occurred during the Thanksgiving week of travel and coming home from the holiday,” Oravec said.

“It hit about possibly the worst time it could hit, and it went right across the entire country.”

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Regulator ties pipeline work to deadly Massachusetts gas explosion

FILE PHOTO: A burnt Columbia Gas of Massachusetts envelope sits on the sidewalk outside a home burned during a series of gas explosions in Lawrence, Massachusetts, U.S., September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

By Liz Hampton

HOUSTON (Reuters) – A NiSource Inc affiliate failed to require contract repair crews to relocate pressure sensors during natural-gas pipeline work, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said on Thursday, resulting in overpressured lines that caused explosions and fires in three Massachusetts communities last month.

Overpressurized gas poured through Columbia Gas Co of Massachusetts’ distribution system in Lawrence, North Andover and Andover, flooding into homes and businesses and sparking explosions and fires that killed one person and injured 21.

Critical valves controlling the gas flow were not shut for nearly 3-1/2 hours after the first alarm was raised at Columbia Gas’s monitoring center, NTSB said in a preliminary report. The center had no ability to remotely open or close valves on its own, but did notify technicians, it added.

NiSource is fully cooperating with the NTSB, Chief Executive Joe Hamrock said in a statement on Thursday. However, it will not comment on the cause of the incident until the NTSB completes its work, he added.

The incident raised safety concerns about the sprawling U.S. networks of aging pipelines. The September explosions and fires damaged 131 homes and businesses as Columbia Gas was replacing cast-iron pipe with safer plastic lines when the accident occurred.

The NTSB laid out the timetable of events in a dry account of the company’s activities that day.

Crews were working for Columbia Gas in Lawrence, a city northwest of Boston, to replace an aged cast-iron main with a new plastic distribution main line. The abandoned main had regulator sensing lines used to detect pressure in the system.

After that main line was disconnected, the sensing lines lost pressure and the regulators fully opened, “allowing the full flow of high-pressure gas into the distribution system supplying the neighborhood,” the report said.

Columbia Gas had approved a “work package (that) did not account for the location of the sensing lines or require their relocation to ensure the regulators were sensing actual system pressure,” according to the NTSB.

Minutes before the explosion, Columbia Gas’ monitoring center in Columbus, Ohio, received high-pressure alarms for its South Lawrence gas pressure system. The company shut down the regulator at issue about 25 minutes later, around 4:30 p.m, the NTSB said.

September’s explosion was the largest U.S. natural gas pipeline accident since 2010 in terms of structures involved. Eight years ago, an interstate gas transmission line operated by Pacific Gas and Electric Company ruptured in San Bruno, California, killing eight people, destroying 38 buildings and damaging 70 others, according to the NTSB.

Columbia Gas has said all cast iron and bare steel piping in affected neighborhoods will be replaced with high-pressure plastic mains that have regulators at each service meter.

(Reporting by Liz Hampton; Editing by Leslie Adler and Richard Chang)

Gas explosions drive thousands from homes in Boston suburbs

A police officer stands outside a home where a man died in a series of gas explosions in Lawrence, Massachusetts, U.S., September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Ted Siefer

ANDOVER, Mass. (Reuters) – Some 8,000 people were prevented from returning home in Boston suburbs on Friday as investigators scrambled to find out the cause of dozens of gas explosions that killed at least one person and injured about 12 more.

The blasts on Thursday destroyed scores of homes and other buildings in Andover, North Andover and Lawrence, left more than 18,000 homes and businesses without power and forced thousands of people from their homes.

A fire engine is seen near a building emitting smoke after explosions in Lawrence, Massachusetts, United States in this September 13, 2018 still image from social media video footage by Boston Sparks. Boston Sparks/Social Media/via REUTERS

A fire engine is seen near a building emitting smoke after explosions in Lawrence, Massachusetts, United States in this September 13, 2018 still image from social media video footage by Boston Sparks. Boston Sparks/Social Media/via REUTERS

Investigators suspected “over-pressurization of a gas main” belonging to Columbia Gas of Massachusetts led to the series of explosions and fires, Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield said on Thursday.

Massachusetts State Police said around 70 fires, explosions or investigations of gas odor had been reported.

“This has been obviously an incredibly difficult day,” Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said in a news conference early on Friday.

Those driven from their homes “should expect that the restoration process will take several days or longer,” Andrew Maylor, the town manager of North Andover, said on Twitter.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said it would likely take investigators some time to examine the pipeline’s design, maintenance, and upgrades.

“The truth of the matter is we really don’t have any factual information at this point to confirm,” Sumwalt said on Friday.

Columbia Gas, a unit of utility NiSource Inc, is investigating, NISource spokesman Ken Stammen said on Thursday. Before the explosions, Columbia Gas had said it would be upgrading gas lines in neighborhoods across the state, including the affected suburbs.

NiSource shares fell more than 9 percent on Friday morning.

A building burns after explosions in Lawrence, Massachusetts, United States in this September 13, 2018 photo from social media by Boston Sparks. Boston Sparks/Social Media/via REUTERS

A building burns after explosions in Lawrence, Massachusetts, United States in this September 13, 2018 photo from social media by Boston Sparks. Boston Sparks/Social Media/via REUTERS

SAFETY CHECKS

Firefighters raced for hours from one blaze to another and utility crews rushed to shut off gas and electricity to prevent further explosions on Thursday. Fire and utility crews were still going door to door on Friday to conduct safety checks and shut off gas meters, officials said.

Eighteen-year-old Leonel Rondon died when his car was crushed by a falling chimney, a spokeswoman for the Essex County District Attorney’s office said. Lawrence General Hospital said it had treated 13 people for injuries ranging from smoke inhalation to blast trauma.

Guilia Holland, a 35-year-old mechanic in a wheelchair, said she had just gotten off a bus returning home when she saw “a big flash of light” at the house where she had been renting a room for a month.

“Good thing I wasn’t home or I wouldn’t be talking about it,” she said outside an elementary school in Lawrence that the Red Cross had converted into a shelter for about 170 people.

South Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera urged residents to stay away from their homes.

“There could be still a gas leak in your home,” Rivera said. “You can’t see it and in some cases you won’t be able to smell it, and God forbid you go to sleep and don’t wake up.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said it was sending a team to support the state’s emergency response efforts.

“At this time, the focus remains on ensuring the public safety,” Baker said. “Once that’s complete, we will work with federal government and others to investigate how this occurred and hold the appropriate parties accountable for their actions.”

(Additional reporting by Ross Kerber and Nate Raymond in Boston; Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Makini Brice in Washington; editing by Larry King and Susan Thomas)

U.S. judge upholds Massachusetts assault weapons ban

FILE PHOTO - AR-15 rifles are displayed for sale at the Guntoberfest gun show in Oaks, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – A federal judge on Friday upheld a Massachusetts law banning assault weapons including the AR-15, saying the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment guarantee of Americans’ right to bear firearms does not cover them.

U.S. District Judge William Young in Boston ruled that assault weapons and large-capacity magazines covered by the 1998 law fall outside the scope of the Second Amendment’s personal right to bear arms.

He also rejected a challenge to an enforcement notice Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey issued in 2016 clarifying what under the law is a “copy” of an assault weapon. Healey announced that notice after a gunman killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

The decision released on Friday came amid renewed attention to school shootings, gun violence and firearms ownership after a gunman killed 17 students and faculty at a Florida high school in February, prompting a surge of gun control activism by teenage students.

In a 47-page ruling, Young cited former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative who died in 2016, as having observed that weapons that are most useful in military service may be banned. Young said the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle was such a weapon.

He acknowledged arguments by plaintiffs including the Gun Owners’ Action League who noted the AR-15’s popularity in arguing the law must be unconstitutional because it would ban a class of firearms Americans had overwhelming chosen for legal purposes.

“Yet the AR-15’s present-day popularity is not constitutionally material,” Young wrote. “This is because the words of our Constitution are not mutable. They mean the same today as they did 227 years ago when the Second Amendment was adopted.”

Healey, a Democrat, in a statement welcomed the decision.

“Strong gun laws save lives, and we will not be intimidated by the gun lobby in our efforts to end the sale of assault weapons and protect our communities and schools,” she said.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs did not respond to a request for comment.

They had filed their lawsuit in 2017 and based part of their case on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Scalia authored in 2008 that held for the first time that individual Americans have a right to own guns.

The justices have avoided taking up another major gun case in the years since and in November refused to hear a similar case challenging Maryland’s 2013 state ban on assault weapons.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Snow storm pounds U.S. Northeast, closing schools, snarling commutes

A man takes shelter as snow falls in Times Square in Manhattan in New York City, New York, U.S., March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The second winter storm in a week will continue to dump wet, heavy snow on New England on Thursday, forcing schools to close and leaving hundreds of thousands without power as it promised to slow the morning commute across the region.

A foot (30 cm) of snow and fierce wind gusts of up to 55 miles per hour (88 km/h) were expected from eastern New York through northern Maine on Thursday after the storm slammed the region on Wednesday, the National Weather Service said in several watches and warnings.

Up to 2 feet of snow accumulation was expected in some inland parts of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts and 18 inches was possible in Maine.

Boston public schools along with dozens of schools throughout New England canceled classes on Thursday as local officials and forecasters warned commuters of whiteout conditions and slick roads.

“With snow removal efforts underway, motorists are asked to stay off roads, stay home and stay safe,” the Boston Police Department said on Twitter.

Amtrak suspended passenger train services between New York City and Boston until at least 10 a.m. local time and canceled dozens of routes on Thursday.

Two dozen flights were already canceled early on Thursday morning after about half of all scheduled flights were canceled at the three major airports serving New York City on Wednesday.

The website said more than 2,100 flights had been delayed and 2,700 canceled, most of them in the Northeast, as of 8 p.m. local time on Wednesday.

The dense snow and strong winds downed trees and power lines, knocking power out for hundreds of thousands in New England and the Mid Atlantic, according to Poweroutage.us, a website that tracks outages.

“4am, no power (no heat), waiting for a text from work to say “we will be closed today”. Fingers crossed!” tweeted Jessica Squeglia in Peabody, Massachusetts.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy ordered many state workers to head home early on Wednesday afternoon at staggered intervals to avoid traffic snarls on slippery roads.

The governors of New Jersey and Pennsylvania declared states of emergency, giving them access to support from the U.S. government if needed.

Last week’s storm brought major coastal flooding to Massachusetts, killed at least nine people and knocked out power to about 2.4 million homes and businesses in the Northeast.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Flooded streets and evacuations as storm pounds Boston and U.S. Northeast

By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) – Seawater on Friday flowed onto some coastal streets around Boston, where businesses set up flood barriers and piled sandbags around their doors as a powerful storm threatened to flood pockets of the U.S. coast from Maine to Virginia.

Over 700,000 homes and businesses were without power in the U.S. Northeast, hundreds of flights were canceled at New York’s three major airports and Boston’s Logan International, and the federal government closed offices in Washington.

It was the second time this year that Boston streets, including areas around the Long Wharf and the rapidly developing Seaport District, flooded in a winter storm.

“It’s crazy. I guess this is sea-level rise in action,” said Bob Flynn, 38, who had stepped out from his work at Boston’s Children’s Museum to survey a partially submerged walkway along the city’s Fort Point Channel.

Heavy rains, extreme high tides and a wind-driven storm surge could combine to cause several feet of water to flow onto streets in coastal Massachusetts, with government and private weather forecasters warning of a repeat of an early-January storm that drove a couple of feet of icy seawater onto Boston’s streets. High winds gusting up to 60 miles per hour (97 kph) could also bring extensive power outages.

“The winds are going to keep on increasing and the seas are going to go higher and higher for the next three high tide cycles,” said Bill Simpson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton, Massachusetts. Floodwater surged in during high tide around 11 a.m. ET (1600 GMT), and forecasters warned that strong winds coming in off the ocean could keep levels high through the next two high tides.

Residents of coastal areas that regularly flood in storms, including the towns of Newburyport, Duxbury and Scituate had been encouraged to evacuate their homes and head to higher ground, said Chris Besse, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

He added that it is hard to predict where the storm will take its heaviest toll.

“It could be that the first high tide washes away dunes from one beach and the second washes away houses,” Besse said.

Sarah Moran, a 59-year-old mother of six, was fretting whether her family’s oceanfront home in Scituate, Massachusetts, south of Boston, would survive the storm.

“Every house south of mine has been washed away since the 1978 blizzard. That risk is part of the package – the house comes complete with ocean views, taxes, maintenance and risks,” she said in a phone interview from Burlington, Vermont, where she owns a catering business.

The National Weather Service had coastal flood watches and warnings in place from southern Maine through coastal Virginia, including New York’s eastern suburbs, and was also tracking a snowstorm heading east from the Ohio Valley that could drop significant amounts of snow in northern New York State. It forecast storm surges of up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) for eastern Massachusetts.

More than 700,000 homes and businesses were without power across the region, with the largest number of outages in New York, utilities said.

Federal offices closed on Friday in Washington, while dozens of schools throughout the region canceled classes. More than a quarter of flights into and out of New York’s three major airports and Boston’s airport were canceled, according to tracking service Flightaware.com.

Southern California was also facing weather dangers, with risks of rain-driven mudslides prompting mandatory evacuations ordered for some 30,000 people living near fire-scarred hills around the Santa Barbara coast.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg and Gina Cherelus in New York and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; editing by Phil Berlowitz and Jonathan Oatis)