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Jan 28, 10:41 AM EST

New Englanders facing snowy 'big dig' after blizzard


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BOSTON (AP) -- New Englanders savaged by a blizzard packing knee-high snowfall and hurricane-force winds began digging out Wednesday, grudgingly praising forecasters who got grief from New Yorkers and others spared its full fury.

The storm buried the Boston area in more than 2 feet of snow and lashed it with howling winds that exceeded 70 mph. It punched a gaping hole in a seawall and swamped a vacant home in Marshfield, Massachusetts, and flipped a 110-foot replica of a Revolutionary War ship in Newport, Rhode Island, snapping its mast and puncturing its hull.

Boston is accustomed to big snowstorms, and with ample warning that a blizzard was coming, officials mobilized thousands of snowplows and called up the National Guard to ensure a speedy recovery.

"We've come out of this in relatively good shape," Gov. Charlie Baker acknowledged Wednesday.

Morning commuters high-stepped their way through a warren of snowy paths and towering snowbanks that gave much of Massachusetts an almost alpine feel.

"I had to jump out the window because the door only opens one way," Chuck Beliveau said in the hard-hit central town of Westborough. "I felt like a kid again. When I was a kid, we'd burrow through snow drifts like moles."

But signs of normalcy emerged: Boston's public transit was running and Amtrak trains to New York and Washington were rolling on a limited schedule. Flights began arriving at Logan International Airport, among the nation's busiest air hubs, just after 8 a.m.

Although the Washington-Baltimore area was dealt only a glancing blow, dozens of flights were canceled and delayed Wednesday at the three major airports.

In Massachusetts, bitter cold threatened to complicate efforts to clear clogged streets and restore power to more than 15,000 customers shivering in the dark, including the entire island of Nantucket. A 78 mph wind gust was reported there, and a 72 mph one on neighboring Martha's Vineyard.

The low in Boston on Wednesday was expected to be 10 degrees, with a wind chill of minus 5. Forecasters warned that it won't get above freezing for a week, and more snow - though nothing major - was expected later in the week.

Around New England, snowplows struggled to keep up, and Boston police drove several dozen doctors and nurses to work at hospitals. Snow blanketed Boston Common, where the Redcoats drilled during the Revolution, and drifts piled up against Faneuil Hall, where Samuel Adams agitated for rebellion against the British.

More than 24 inches of snow coated Boston's airport, the sixth-highest in recorded history. The record is 27.6 inches in 2003. Worcester got 33.5 inches - the highest amount recorded since 1905 - and Auburn and Lunenburg each reported 36 inches.

Parts of the New Hampshire coastline got 31 inches. Burrillville, Rhode Island, got 26.5 inches. More than 20 inches piled up in Portland, Maine, and 33.5 inches in Thompson, Connecticut. Orient, on the eastern end of Long Island, got about 30 inches.

Two deaths, both on Long Island, were tied to the storm by police: a 17-year-old who crashed into a light pole while snow-tubing down a street and an 83-year-old man with dementia who was found dead in his backyard.

The Philadelphia-to-Boston corridor of more than 35 million people had braced for a paralyzing blast Monday evening and into Tuesday after forecasters warned of a storm of potentially historic proportions.

The weather lived up to its billing in New England and on New York's Long Island, which also got clobbered.

Boston's meteorologists were spot on: Forecasts warned the city would get more than 2 feet, and the National Weather Service said it got 24.4 inches.

"They actually got it right," James Hansen said as he cleared a Boston sidewalk.

But while Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey had been warned they could get 1 to 2 feet of snow, New York City received just under 10 inches and Philadelphia a mere inch or so. New Jersey got up to 10 inches.

The glancing blow left forecasters apologizing and politicians defending their near-total shutdown on travel. Some commuters grumbled, but others sounded a better-safe-than-sorry note and even expressed sympathy for the weathermen.

National Weather Service forecaster Gary Szatkowski, of Mount Holly, New Jersey, tweeted an apology: "You made a lot of tough decisions expecting us to get it right, and we didn't."

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio defended his administration's decision to prepare for the storm by closing roads amid forecasts of more than 2 feet of snow.

"You can't put a price on safety," he said Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show.

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Associated Press writers Michelle R. Smith in Providence; Rhode Island; Amy Crawford in Westborough, Massachusetts; Jennifer Peltz, Kiley Armstrong, Ula Ilnytzky and Verena Dobnik in New York; Shawn Marsh in Trenton, New Jersey; Jill Colvin in Jersey City, New Jersey; Geoff Mulvihill in Haddonfield, New Jersey; and Sean Carlin, Michael Sisak and Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

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