COLUMBIA, Conn. – A winter storm responsible for deaths in the Midwest blasted the Northeast on Thursday, dumping snow and sleet and clogging some of the nation's most heavily traveled highways.
Some parts of the Northeast could receive up to a foot of snow. Schools, businesses and government agencies in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Connecticut closed early.
The resulting exodus choked highways and streets. Authorities reported hundreds of mostly minor accidents throughout the region. Some vehicles were stranded along roadways, preventing plows from getting through.
Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell found herself stuck, crawling along the highway at 5-10 mph for two hours from Suffield to Hartford in what should have been a 30-minute drive.
"Stay home," she advised. "Go home, prop your feet up, watch the news."
While the traffic crawled along Interstates 95, 84 and 91, it also slowed at Northeast airports.
There were delays up to three hours for arriving flights at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, where more than 200 flights had been canceled by late afternoon, officials said.
Elsewhere, Boston's Logan International reported more than 100 flights cancelled. No major problems were reported at New York's airports; some airlines allowed passengers to reschedule their flights for free.
The storm was blamed for 35 deaths, mostly in traffic accidents, since it developed last weekend.
In Oklahoma, about 342,000 homes and businesses still were without power Thursday, officials said. In Missouri, about 31,900 customers remained in the dark, said Al Butkus, spokesman for utility Aquila Inc.
As the Midwest continued to emerge from the darkness, hundreds of snow plow operators in the Northeast were having a tough time getting out of traffic jams.
"How can you plow and put material down, when the trucks are stuck in traffic?" said Doug Harris at Connecticut's transportation department storm center.
Rell asked tractor-trailer drivers to get off highways for at least two hours to give plows room to work.
State police said portions of several highways had to be closed for a time in part because motorists abandoned their vehicles in the travel lanes.
Susan Randolph of Bolton, Conn., said it took her an hour to make her normal 20-minute commute from her job at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.
"A lot of drivers seem to have forgotten their snow driving skills," she said.
Along the shoreline in Milford, Conn., sleet and hail turned the roads to sheets of ice.
Ken Johnson, who was stopped at a Milford gas station, was hoping for even more snow. The 50-year-old arborist said he relies on snow plowing for his income in the winter.
"I'm waiting for the people to start calling," he said. "I like the summertime; money grows on trees for me. God, let it snow more."
In Rhode Island, two dozen school districts closed early, as did companies and state agencies in Providence. The workers' exodus and the snow choked streets in the capital city.
"Traffic is at a standstill," Providence Police Sgt. Paul Zienowicz said. "It's one big traffic jam."
In Albany, snowy roads slowed traffic to a crawl. "People are crazy. ... They're still shopping," said Kay McIntyre, shoveling a sidewalk in suburban Colonie as cars inched into a nearby mall parking lot.
Meanwhile Thursday, crews in the Plains and Midwest worked to restore power to hundreds of thousands of people left in the dark in the storm's ice-coated wake.
Sunshine and milder temperatures on Thursday should help cleanup efforts in much of the Plains, but another winter storm approaching from the west could dump heavy snow on parts of Oklahoma on Friday.
In St. Joseph in northwest Missouri, Martha Shockey and her husband, Rick, have been without electricity at their house since Tuesday morning. Utility spokesman Butkus said at least 19,500 were without electricity.
They have been keeping the burners on their gas stove to keep warn, except when they go out for food and propane, Shockey said on Thursday.
"The only thing you can do is grin and bear it and cope with it and figure that it's got to get better," she said.