State of emergency, Evacuations, rescues as ‘historic’ floods hit northeastern U.S.

A road is submereged in flood water after heavy rains in Spring Lake, New Jersey, U.S., August 13, 2018, in this still image taken from a veideo obtained from social media. @TheWeatherMstr/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – New Jersey declared a partial state of emergency on Tuesday as forecasts for further heavy rainfall posed new danger in parts of that state, New York, and Pennsylvania, where rescuers hauled people from waterways, flooded cars, and homes.

Following several days of torrential rain throughout the northeastern United States, the National Weather Service issued new warnings for flooding in areas around Binghamton, New York, near the Pennsylvania border, and in New Jersey.

A road is submereged in flood water after heavy rains in Spring Lake, New Jersey, U.S., August 13, 2018, in this still image taken from a veideo obtained from social media. @TheWeatherMstr/via REUTERS

A road is submereged in flood water after heavy rains in Spring Lake, New Jersey, U.S., August 13, 2018, in this still image taken from a veideo obtained from social media. @TheWeatherMstr/via REUTERS

Federal forecasters warned that areas in the region could see as much as 4 inches (10 cm) more rain on Tuesday.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said in a statement five of the state’s 21 counties were under a state of emergency, where additional rainfall could further complicate flood cleanup.

“Parts of our state have received nothing less than historic amounts of rain, and some communities received an entire month’s worth in just a few hours,” said Murphy.

The police department in Brick, a town of 75,000 on the Atlantic coast, said on Facebook that residents were barred from returning to 105 homes without a security escort until township officials finished inspecting them.

In Seneca County, New York, emergency crews were evacuating some residents by boat and taking them to a nearby shelter, the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

“Flooding is one of the primary killers with regards to weather. It’s not tornadoes. It’s not wind damage,” said Brett Rossio, an Accuweather meteorologist. “It doesn’t take much. Even just a foot of water can pull you away very easily.”

More than 8,000 people had lost power in areas drenched by the storms and the Red Cross said it was operating shelters. It was not immediately clear how many people were in them.

“It’s Mother Nature so it’s a fluid situation, watching where the rain falls and if there’s additional evacuations necessary,” said Jay Bonafede, the Red Cross spokesman.

Both Pennsylvania and New York have already activated their emergency response centers for the storms, which started over the weekend.

Molly Dougherty, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, said some people affected by the flooding had been recovering from deluges three weeks ago.

“People are looking at losses of most of their belongings and, in some cases, we’re still concerned about the safety of folks and making sure they’re able to stabilize,” said Dougherty.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Scott Malone, Susan Thomas, and Bernadette Baum)

Water rescues, flooded roads as rains hammer U.S. mid-Atlantic

National Weather Service Rain forecast map for 7-25-18

(Reuters) – Rescuers pulled people from inundated cars on flooded streets near Baltimore on Wednesday as heavy rain soaked the U.S. mid-Atlantic coast for a fifth day, swelling rivers, closing roads and imperiling homes.

Heavy rains fell overnight from central New York state south through eastern North Carolina, where the National Weather Service forecast that a fresh round of downpours could cause more flooding. Eastern Virginia and Pennsylvania were also hard hit.

Emergency workers around Baltimore pulled people from at least three vehicles stuck in floodwater as deep as 3 feet (0.9 meter), Baltimore County’s Police and Fire Department said on Twitter.

“NEVER go into flood waters,” the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center said on Twitter. “It doesn’t take much water to sweep away a person or vehicle, and water can damage or wash away the underlying road — creating unseen hazards.”

Authorities closed highways and roads in parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia because of flooding.

“With the rainfall we have seen over the last week, the ground is very saturated, so any additional rainfall we receive, especially heavy, really has nowhere to go, resulting in flooding,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Brandon Fling.

Up to 14 inches (36 cm) of rain has fallen along the U.S. East Coast since Saturday, swelling waterways well above flood levels.

Local news video showed water streaming into homes and businesses in some places and reaching the tops of automobiles as rescue crews worked to save motorists.

“It just happened out of nowhere, and next thing my car was just shut off, and I’m like, ‘What do I do now?'” Zachary Reichert told NBC News after being rescued from his flooded Jeep in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. “I can’t swim in the first place, so I wasn’t jumping into those waters.”

Hersheypark, the Pennsylvania amusement park, said it would be closed on Wednesday after the town surrounding it issued a disaster declaration. It also was closed on Monday.

Airports in New York and Philadelphia reported delays of more than an hour, according to Federal Aviation Administration.

The downpours were expected to continue as at least a chance of rain was in the forecast for the area for several more days.

Separately, parts of northwestern Colorado were drenched with rain on Wednesday morning, where officials warned of flash flooding and debris in an area recently scarred by wildfires.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Makini Brice in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Will Dunham)

Two rare shark attacks reported along New York’s Fire Island beaches

A shark's tooth extracted from the leg of a 13-year old boy, who was attacked at Atlantique Beach in Islip, New York, U.S., is shown in this photo provided July 18, 2018. Courtesy Jason Hager/Ocean Beach Fire Department/Handout via REUTERS

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Two youngsters frolicking in the surf miles apart along the Fire Island National Seashore in New York suffered puncture wounds to their legs on Wednesday in apparent shark attacks that would mark the state’s first such incidents in 70 years, authorities said.

The victims – a 12-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy – were discharged after emergency medical treatment for their separate mishaps, each with a bandaged right leg, and both were expected to fully recover.

What appeared to be a shark’s tooth was extracted from the boy’s leg and will be analyzed to determine the species of the creature he encountered while boogie-boarding at Atlantique Beach in the town of Islip, officials said.

The girl, a middle school student identified at a news conference with her parents afterward as Lola Pollina, said she was standing in waist-deep water at Sailors Haven beach in nearby Brookhaven, 2 miles (3 km) east of Islip, when she was bitten.

“I saw something, like, next to me, and I kind of felt pain, and looked and I saw a fin,” she said, recounting how she realized her leg was “all bloody” as she scurried from the water. The shark she saw appeared to be about 3 to 4 feet (91-122 cm) long, she said.

Shark attacks on humans are extremely rare in waters off Fire Island, east of New York City, or anywhere else in the state, according to Ian Levine, chief of the Ocean Beach Fire Department, whose paramedics aided the boy who was bitten.

Only about 10 cases of shark bites on people have ever been documented in New York state, the last one in 1948, Levine told Reuters by telephone, citing information he said was furnished by Islip town supervisors.

Neither incident on Wednesday had yet been officially confirmed as a shark attack, but Levine added, “The tooth we pulled out of the kid’s leg looks like a shark’s tooth.”

The boy, who was attending a day camp at the time, walked on and off the police boat that took him to the hospital. The girl later spoke to reporters seated in a wheelchair.

Fire Island beaches were closed afterward until further notice, National Park Service spokeswoman Elizabeth Rogers said.

The tooth specimen, which is “consistent with a large fish,” was being studied by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which will report its findings to the Suffolk County Marine Bureau, Rogers said.

Bite marks on the girl also were “consistent with a large fish,” she said.

Separately, a 7-foot(2.2 meter)-long tiger shark was caught by a fisherman at Kismet, another beach town 2 miles (3.2 km)west of Islip, Levine said, adding he doubted either animal involved in Wednesday’s attacks was that large.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Sandra Maler)

Woman climbs base of Statue of Liberty, forcing evacuation

A protester is seen on the Statue of Liberty in New York, New York, U.S., July 4, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. Danny Owens/via REUTERS

By Frank McGurty

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A woman climbed the base of the Statue of Liberty on Wednesday afternoon, forcing an evacuation of the New York Harbor island where the monument stands hours before Independence Day fireworks displays were scheduled to begin nearby.

The National Park Service was evacuating Liberty Island because of the standoff. The historic statue, a symbol of American freedom, is typically crowded with visitors on the July 4 holiday.

Television images showed a woman seated just above the stone pedestal on which the colossal, green-tarnished statue stands. Officers, using ladders, had climbed within a few feet of her and were negotiating with her.

“She is refusing to cooperate and our efforts to engage her are ongoing at this minute,” Sgt. David Somma, a spokesman for the National Park Service, told Reuters.

Emergency responders are seen as a protester climbs on the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York, New York, U.S., July 4, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. Twitter/@sarah_eyebrows/via REUTERS

Emergency responders are seen as a protester climbs on the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York, New York, U.S., July 4, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. Twitter/@sarah_eyebrows/via REUTERS

The parks service, which operates the Statue of Liberty National Park, could not confirm whether the woman was part of a protest, Somma said. Earlier, seven protesters were arrested on the island, he said without providing further details.

Those who were arrested had dropped a banner that read “Abolish ICE” from the statue’s base, a reference to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to media reports.

The agency is at the center of the Trump administration’s shelved policy of separating some immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexican border, leading to calls for its disbanding.

The New York Police Department said NYPD hostage negotiators were assisting the park service in attempting to persuade the woman to surrender.

The copper statue, a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States, has become a worldwide symbol of the American values of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

It stands at the mouth of New York Harbor off lower Manhattan, in view of a spectacular fireworks show over the East River, presented every July 4 after nightfall.

At the same time, Jersey City will present a fireworks display at Liberty State Park along the Hudson River near the statue.

(Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Chris Reese)

Explainer: The man sent by North Korean leader to U.S. for high-level talks

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics - Closing ceremony - Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium - Pyeongchang, South Korea - February 25, 2018 - Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party Central Committee, watches the closing ceremony. REUTERS/Patrick Semansky/Pool

By Doina Chiacu and Hyonhee Shin

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – When Kim Yong Chol lands in New York this week, he will become the most senior North Korean envoy to hold talks with American officials on U.S. soil in 18 years.

The former spy chief is a trusted adviser to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, playing a pivotal role in preparations for an historic summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump.

In a sign of his importance, Trump announced Kim Yong Chol’s New York trip on Twitter on Tuesday.

The White House said he would meet U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later this week, the most high-level contact between the two countries in the United States since Jo Myong Rok, a marshal, met President Bill Clinton in 2000.

DIPLOMATIC HEAVYWEIGHT

Kim Yong Chol is a four-star general, vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, and director of the United Front Department, which is responsible for inter-Korean relations.

Such positions, and his omnipresence before and during inter-Korean summits in April and on Saturday, make him one of the most powerful people in North Korea, South Korean officials say.

He has played a central role in the recent thaw in relations between the North and South Korea, as well as the United States.

Sent as Kim Jong Un’s envoy to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February, Kim Yong Chol told South Korean President Moon Jae-in Pyongyang was open to talks with Washington, the first indication North Korea was changing course after months of trading threats and insults with the United States.

He and Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, were the only two officials to join the North Korean leader at the two inter-Korean summits.

He also coordinated Kim Jong Un’s two meetings with Pompeo in Pyongyang.

FILE PHOTO: Kim Yong Chol (front), vice chairman of the ruling Workers' Party's Central Committee and formerly head of a top North Korean military intelligence agency, arrives at the international airport in Beijing, China in this photo taken by Kyodo on May 30, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

FILE PHOTO: Kim Yong Chol (front), vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee and formerly head of a top North Korean military intelligence agency, arrives at the international airport in Beijing, China in this photo taken by Kyodo on May 30, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

SPY UNDER SANCTIONS

Kim Yong Chol was previously chief of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, a top North Korean military intelligence agency, and has spent nearly 30 years as a senior member of the intelligence community.

The United States and South Korea blacklisted him for supporting the North’s nuclear and missile programs in 2010 and 2016, respectively. A visit to the United States would indicate a waiver was granted.

He was accused by South Korea of masterminding deadly attacks on a South Korean navy ship and an island in 2010. He was also linked by U.S. intelligence to a devastating cyber attack on Sony Pictures in 2014.

North Korea denied any involvement in either incident.

Kim Yong Chol “stormed out of the room” during military talks in 2014 when the South demanded an apology for the 2010 attacks, according to South Korean officials.

“He is a tough negotiator and an expert on inter-Korean talks, but it is true that he had been a symbol of hawks rather than harmony and reconciliation until this year,” said Moon Sang-gyun, a former South Korean defense official.

BODYGUARD TO KIM’S FATHER

Kim Yong Chol served in the military police in the demilitarized zone on the border of the two Koreas. He was also a bodyguard to Kim Jong Il, the former leader and late father of Kim Jong Un, according to North Korea Leadership Watch, an affiliate of the 38 North think tank.

He has been closely linked to Kim Jong Un’s succession and has been seen flanking the leader on several public visits.

Kim Yong Chol is known to be difficult to work with, sarcastic and not sufficiently deferential to his superiors, Leadership Watch said.

He has also suffered tough times. South Korea’s intelligence agency said in 2015 Kim Yong Chol was demoted to a three-star general after dozing off during a meeting.

In 2016, Seoul’s unification ministry said he was briefly sent to a re-education camp for his “overbearing” manner and abuse of power.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu in WASHINGTON and Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL; Editing by Mary Milliken, Bill Trott and)

Power outages linger as U.S. Northeast recovers from deadly storm

Commuters wait as service was temporarily suspended on all Metro North lines at Grand Central Terminal due to storms in Manhattan, New York, May 15, 2018. REUTERS/Herbert Lash

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A violent spring storm that killed at least five people in the northeastern United States downed trees and power lines, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power on Wednesday.

By daybreak, more than 370,000 residents were without power in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, down from more than 600,000 on Tuesday night.

Amtrak and most local commuter railroads in the New York metropolitan area said their services were back to normal on Wednesday. Some schools canceled classes or delayed their openings.

The line of strong thunderstorms with wind gusts of 50 to 80 miles per hour (80 to 129 kilometers per hour) sped eastward across the region Tuesday evening, causing local flooding, scattering debris and dropping hail as large as tennis balls.

Falling trees killed an 11-year-old girl and a woman in separate incidents in Newburgh, New York, police said. Falling trees also killed two people in Connecticut in separate incidents, as well as a person in Pennsylvania, local media reported.

Local news showed footage of trees resting on top of crushed cars and houses, and vehicles submerged in water.

There were more than 100 reports of hail in states including Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut, the National Weather Service said.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in several counties in southeast New York and deployed members of the New York National Guard to assist with the recovery.

Officials in Brookfield, Connecticut, declared a town disaster and told residents to stay inside until they could assess the damage.

“Please be aware that there are hundreds of downed trees, utility poles and electrical lines. AVOID all down trees and utility poles as they may still involve LIVE power lines,” the Brookfield Police Department said on Facebook.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Alison Williams and Susan Thomas)

U.S. inspectors probe deadly Southwest jet engine explosion

U.S. NTSB investigators are on scene examining damage to the engine of the Southwest Airlines plane in this image released from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 17, 2018. NTSB/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – The National Transportation Safety Board on Wednesday was inspecting the wrecked engine of a Southwest Airlines Co jet that blew up in mid air, killing a passenger in the first deadly U.S. commercial airline accident in nine years.

NTSB officials retrieved the flight data recorder from the Boeing 737-700, which will be sent to Washington for review, as airlines around the world stepped up inspection of engines on that model of aircraft.

Southwest Flight 1380, which took off from New York for Dallas, Texas, with 144 passengers and five crew members aboard, made an emergency landing in Philadelphia on Tuesday after an engine on the plane ripped apart, killing bank executive Jennifer Riordan, 43.

Emergency personnel monitor the damaged engine of Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, which diverted to the Philadelphia International Airport this morning after the airline crew reported damage to one of the aircraft's engines, on a runway in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Makela

Emergency personnel monitor the damaged engine of Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, which diverted to the Philadelphia International Airport this morning after the airline crew reported damage to one of the aircraft’s engines, on a runway in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Makela

It was the second incident involving a failure of the same sort of engine, the CFM56, made by a partnership of France’s Safran and General Electric, on a Southwest jet in the past two years.

Passengers described scenes of panic as a piece of shrapnel from the engine shattered a window on the aircraft, almost sucking a female passenger out.

“All I could think of in that moment was, I need to communicate with my loved ones,” passenger Marty Martinez told ABC’s Good Morning America on Wednesday. During the incident, he logged on to the plane’s in-flight WiFi service to send messages to his family.

“I thought, these are my last few moments on Earth and I want people to know what happened,” Martinez said.

Southwest Airlines experienced an unrelated safety incident early on Wednesday when a Phoenix-bound flight was forced to land at Nashville airport shortly after takeoff because of bird strike.

The airline said it would inspect the fan blades of CFM56 engines on all of its 737 jets within 30 days. Minimal flight disruptions may result, it said.

NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said on Tuesday at the Philadelphia airport that a preliminary investigation found an engine fan blade missing, having apparently broken off, and that there was metal fatigue at the point where it would normally be attached.

Sumwalt said the investigation could take 12 to 15 months to complete.

In August 2016, a Southwest flight made a safe emergency landing in Pensacola, Florida, after a fan blade separated from the same type of engine and debris ripped a hole above the left wing. That incident prompted the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to propose last year that similar fan blades undergo ultrasonic inspections and be replaced if they failed.

Riordan’s death was the first in a U.S. commercial aviation accident since 2009, according to NTSB statistics.

Riordan was a Wells Fargo banking executive and well-known community volunteer from Albuquerque, New Mexico, according to a Wells Fargo official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Additional reporting by Arunima Banerjee in Bengaluru; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Peter Graff and Bernadette Baum)

New York attorney general probing Brooklyn police shooting death

Saheed Vassell points a metal pipe at a pedestrian in Brooklyn April 4, 2018, in a still image from surveillance video released by the New York Police Department in New York City, New York, U.S. on April 5, 2018. Images of some faces have been obscured at source. NYPD/Handout via REUTERS

By Gina Cherelus

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The New York State attorney general’s office said on Thursday it would investigate the fatal shooting by police of an unarmed black man in Brooklyn after he pointed a metal pipe at officers that they believed was a gun.

Saheed Vassell points a metal pipe at a pedestrian in Brooklyn April 4, 2018, in a still image from surveillance video released by the New York Police Department in New York City, New York, U.S. on April 5, 2018. NYPD/Handout via REUTERS

Saheed Vassell points a metal pipe at a pedestrian in Brooklyn April 4, 2018, in a still image from surveillance video released by the New York Police Department in New York City, New York, U.S. on April 5, 2018. NYPD/Handout via REUTERS

“We’re committed to conducting an independent, comprehensive and fair investigation,” Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, said in a statement.

The death of Saheed Vassell on Wednesday was the latest fatal shooting of an unarmed black man by police, fueling more protests and heightening a nationwide debate over the use of excessive force by police and accusations of racial bias in the criminal justice system.

More than 200 demonstrators and activists took to the streets of the Crown Heights neighborhood in which Vassell was shot, chanting “Justice for Saheed.”

“They murdered my son and I want justice for him,” Lorna Vassell, his mother, said at the protest.

The family has demanded a coroner’s inquest.

Police said Vassell was killed by officers responding to reports of a man aiming a gun at pedestrians. When the officers arrived, police said, Vassell took a two-handed shooting stance and pointed an object at them.

The officers believed the suspect was holding a firearm, a senior police official told a news conference on Wednesday, and three plainclothes officers and one uniformed officer fired 10 shots. Vassell died in a hospital.

Saheed Vassell points a metal pipe before being shot to death by police in Brooklyn April 4, 2018, in a still image from surveillance video released by the New York Police Department in New York City, New York, U.S. on April 5, 2018. NYPD/Handout via REUTERS

Saheed Vassell points a metal pipe before being shot to death by police in Brooklyn April 4, 2018, in a still image from surveillance video released by the New York Police Department in New York City, New York, U.S. on April 5, 2018. NYPD/Handout via REUTERS

Police on Thursday released security camera footage that showed Vassell approaching people on the street and pointing the pipe at them as if it were a pistol. They also released partial transcripts of three 911 emergency calls.

“There’s a guy walking around the street, he looks like he’s crazy but he’s pointing something at people that looks like a gun and he’s pulling the trigger,” one of the callers said.

Local media reported that Vassell was 34 years old, suffered from mental illness, and was well known in parts of Crown Heights.

His killing followed the fatal shooting by police of an unarmed black man, Stephon Clark, 22, in Sacramento, California, that has sparked more than two weeks of demonstrations.

Officers responding to a report of someone breaking windows killed Clark on March 18 in his grandmother’s backyard. The officers feared he had a gun, but it turned out he was holding a cellphone, Sacramento police said.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Bill Trott, Tom Brown)

‘Four’easter’ pounds U.S. East as Californians wary of mudslides

A woman holds an umbrella as she walks toward the Washington Monument during a snowstorm in Washington, U.S., March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. East’s fourth major snowstorm this month brought heavy snow on Wednesday, snarling flights and commuter travel, closing schools and triggering emergency declarations in several states.

The storm will have passed over the Northeast by dawn Thursday. By then, it will have dumped 8 inches of snow on Philadelphia, 12 inches on New York City, and 17 inches over northern Maryland and southern Pennsylvania, said Weather Prediction Center meteorologist Marc Chenard.

The storm faded as it reached New England, which received less snow than had been forecast, Chenard said.

The wintry blast on the second day of spring was dubbed “four’easter” by some media outlets because it struck after three previous storms this month. Those nor’easters left nine dead and more than 2 million homes and businesses without power.

While he offered no guarantees, Chenard told Reuters: “At this point, I would say there is a good chance this is the last” Northeast snowstorm for March.

New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo declared local emergencies for New York City and five nearby counties.

Schools in the largest U.S. school district in New York City will reopen on Thursday after being shut on Wednesday, city officials said.

“Don’t go out unless you absolutely have to go out,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said on Twitter on Wednesday. Murphy on Tuesday declared a state of emergency as crews cleared roadways and transit bus service was suspended statewide.

Murphy said at least one death was caused by the storm in a traffic crash, NJ.com reported, and the New York Daily News reported that a woman was killed on Long Island in another traffic accident.

Delaware Governor John Carney also declared a state of emergency for Wednesday.

Throughout the East Coast, many other buses and trains, including some Greyhound bus and Amtrak rail routes, that millions of people rely on to commute to and from work and school also canceled service on Wednesday.

With many commuters staying home, New York City’s normally bustling Times Square was sedate.

“We’re not going to let the snow get in the way of our snow day,” said Cheryl Mandelbaum, 30, an elementary school teacher who was taking pictures with a friend, another teacher who had the day off.

Several inches of snowfall in Washington and its suburbs forced the closure of federal government offices, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The office also said federal agencies told workers to arrive two hours later than usual on Thursday, work remotely or take the day off.

Washington schools were also closed, and children in Philadelphia, parts of New Jersey and Pittsburgh also enjoyed a snow day. In Boston, students were told to trudge to school.

The National Weather Service said that farther inland, snow also blanketed parts of Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.

Airlines scrapped 4,444 flights within, into and out of the United States, according to flight tracking website FlightAware, and 3,206 U.S. flights were delayed.

As the storm ends for the Northeast on Thursday morning, parts of coastal California will be poised for possible mudslides.

About 25,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, Santa Barbara officials said on Wednesday night. The evacuations are called mainly in hillside areas burned by winter wildfires and where in January 21 people were killed in mudslides.

No one had been hurt by Wednesday night, said Kelly Hoover of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, who added that heavy rains were expected from 5 to 11 a.m. on Thursday.

(Additional reporting by Alana Wise and Scott DiSavino in New York, Bernadette Baum in Montclair, New Jersey, Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago, Keith Coffman in Denver, Eric Walsh in Washington and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Additional reporting and writing by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Himani Sarkar)

Winter storm to strike U.S. East, snarling traffic, closing schools

A pedestrian walks through a late season snow storm in New York, U.S., March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

(Reuters) – Millions of commuters along the U.S. East Coast will face another round of heavy snow, ice and wind gusts on Wednesday when the fourth major snow storm this month strikes the region, closing schools, grounding flights and halting buses and trains.

The nor’easter storm is on track to dump up to a foot of snow and bring gusts of up to 50 miles per hour (80 kmph) to major cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Boston on Wednesday and into Thursday, the National Weather Service said.

“Significant amounts of snow, sleet and ice will make travel very hazardous or impossible,” the service said in an advisory for New Jersey.

More than 2,000 flights had already been canceled on Tuesday evening at the three major airports that serve New York. Airlines said they were waiving fees to change flights from and to the East Coast.

The storm forced schools across the region including those in Philadelphia and New York, the largest school district in the United States, to cancel classes on Wednesday.

“For everyone’s safety, because it could be such a big storm … we want to be ahead of it,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday.

Both Greyhound bus service and Amtrak passenger train service suspended or abbreviated routes for the day. Throughout the East Coast, local bus and train services that millions of people rely on to commute to and from work and school also canceled service on Wednesday.

Widespread power outages were also expected on Wednesday as heavy snow and ice along winds may topple trees and power lines, the service said.

The latest storm comes after storms on March 2, 7 and 12 left at least 9 people dead across the region and more than 2 million homes and businesses without power.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Amrutha Gayathri)