NEW YORK/WASHINGTON- The U.S. Northeast began to clean up after two blizzards in a week brought the region to a standstill with record snowfalls, leaving thousands without power and creating a multimillion-dollar mess.
From Washington to Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, cities largely ground to a halt with governments shut down, public transport scaled back, thousands of flights cancelled and some highways closed as snow and powerful winds created whiteout conditions.
The federal government in Washington said agencies in the U.S. capital region would remain closed for a fourth straight day on Thursday, a decision that costs an estimated $100 million (£64 million) in lost productivity each day.
The National Weather Service said Washington's winter snowfall broke a 110-year-old record with Wednesday's blizzard setting a new mark of 54.9 inches (139.4 cm). Baltimore also set a seasonal record and news reports indicated Philadelphia did too.
As the storm ebbed away into the Atlantic early on Thursday, local authorities urged residents to say at home and warned of treacherous driving conditions while ploughs redoubled their efforts to clear the roads and streets.
Emergency crews trying to restore power to tens of thousands of customers were hampered by strong winds.
After the major storm on Wednesday dropped 10 inches to 20 inches (25 cm to 50 cm) of snow across a large patch of the East Coast, the cities of Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington had received more snow this winter than any time since record-keeping began.
City government offices in Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia were to remain closed for another day, and Maryland Governor Martin O'Mally declared a state of emergency, keeping state offices closed there.
Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell said state offices in the Harrisburg area would open two hours late, but in other cities they would open as scheduled.
Schools were closed for the week in much of the hardest-hit areas, and transport was curtailed, with airlines, railroads, buses and subway services disrupted. The Washington subway planned to operate only in underground areas of the system on Thursday and bus service in the city was to be limited.
The United Nations in New York was closed on Wednesday. But Wall Street and many other businesses ploughed on, and one brokerage house, J.P. Morgan Chase, offered cots in conference rooms for workers if they got stuck at the office.
I was as excited as all the school kids when I found out the U.N. was having a snow day. But I don't really get the day off, I am still working from home, said Stephanie Dunstan, 33, an Australian who works for the U.N. Development Program.
The snow dampened Wall Street trading and was also partly blamed for poor demand at a $25 billion U.S. bond auction.
People are focussing on how they're getting home because of the snow, said Jeffrey Frankel, president of Stuart Frankel & Co in New York, describing it as a very dull stock market.
Drivers were warned to stay off roads as the snow caused accidents and highway closures. Local media reported multi-car accidents in both Pennsylvania and Virginia.
What we've seen today are whiteout conditions, blizzard conditions, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley told PBS NewsHour.
Travel on our highways has been very treacherous, he added. We've had a number of building collapses and we've seen more snowfall in the last 72 hour period than we've ever seen in the 130-year recorded history of these sorts of snow and weather events in our state.
Thousands of flights were cancelled, and airlines relaxed ticket policies to allow passengers to change their plans without penalty, moves that could cloud the outlook for an industry already hard hit by the battered economy.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the blizzard cost taxpayers $1 million for each inch (2.5 cm) that fell. O'Malley said he was hoping for a federal disaster declaration to help ease the financial burden.
Authorities expected between 8 and 12 inches total (20 to 30.5 cm) accumulation in New York, or less than the 12 to 18 inches (30.5 to 46 cm) forecasters had been predicting earlier. Winds also proved to be less fierce than had been expected.
Bloomberg said schools would be open on Thursday, after Wednesday's snow day, which was only the third in New York in eight years.
John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia Airports remained open throughout the storm, although many if not most flights were cancelled. JetBlue cancelled all New York area incoming and outgoing flights for the day, while Newark International Airport closed down on Wednesday as the storm took hold.
In Washington, President Barack Obama had just one item listed on his public agenda and met at the White House with U.S. black leaders to discuss jobs and the economy.
The U.S. House of Representatives cancelled votes for the week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Senate would resume work on Thursday, but he doubted the Senate would have any votes this week. Many congressional hearings were also called off.
Amtrak rail warned of limited service along its lucrative Northeast corridor.
Some 25,000 households lost power in the Baltimore and Washington areas, but electricity had been restored to all but about 10,000 by nightfall, according to reports by Pepco, Dominion and Constellation Energy Group's BG&E, the region's main electric companies.
About 30,000 people were without power in southeastern Pennsylvania, said the local utility PECO.
The storm came as residents were still trying to dig out from weekend snowfalls of 18 (46 cm) to 32 inches (81 cm) from Washington to southern New Jersey. Some struggled to restock refrigerators and clear fallen trees ahead of the new storm.
(Additional reporting by David Alexander and Tim Ryan in Washington; New York bureau; Jon Hurdle in Philadelphia; Editing by Vicki Allen and Sandra Maler)