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Washington shut for fourth day as record snow batters US east coast

world Updated: Feb 11, 2010 12:37 IST

Federal government offices were closed for the fourth straight day on Thursday as heavy snow that pummelled much of the US east coast for the second time in a week left several big cities crippled.

Record snowfalls Wednesday buried the most populous stretch of the region under a foot of snow, forcing lawmakers on the Capitol Hill to take a break, closing schools and courts from Washington to New York and shutting down even the UN.

The longest weather-related government shutdown since January 1996, when employees in the capital city did not have to go to work for a full week, may cost the tax payers up to an estimated $450 million, the Washington Post estimated.

In Washington, the snow was falling at a rate of 2 inches per hour at one point Wednesday afternoon, according to CNN. Forecasters predicted that Washington winds would gust to 50 miles per hour (mph) overnight.

Thousands of flights were delayed or cancelled to and from airports in Baltimore, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, airlines reported.

Rajesh Moorjani, one of the stranded travellers at the Newark, New Jersey, airport, had flown from India Tuesday night, intending to get a connecting flight to California. On Wednesday, he was getting used to the idea of being stuck on the east coast for a day, CNN affiliate WABC reported.

"I'm just kind of trying to get in touch with old classmates, ex-colleagues ... trying to put a message on Facebook saying: 'If anybody is in New York, let's get in touch'," he told WABC.

Blowing snow caused such poor visibility at midday that snowploughs temporarily parked by the side of the road, authorities said. Forecasters predicted that the storm would dump a total of 8 to 10 inches inside the Capital Beltway, with higher amounts to the north.

This winter already has become the snowiest on record for Washington - where Dulles airport has received 72 inches of snow and Reagan National airport has recorded 54.9 inches as well as Baltimore, Maryland, and Wilmington, Delaware, CNN said citing the National Weather Service.

It's also on pace to become the snowiest season on record in other cities, including Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Baltimore has received at least 72.3 inches of snow this winter while Wilmington, Delaware has recorded at least 59.5 inches, breaking its previous record of 55.9 inches.

Blizzard warnings also were in effect Wednesday for Asheville, North Carolina; Newark and Atlantic City, New Jersey; Baltimore, Maryland; Dover, Delaware; New York and nearby Long Island; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

New York was to be under a blizzard warning until 6 a.m. Thursday, but the snow was expected to stop falling late Wednesday night. Forecasters predicted wind gusts up to 50 mph and predicted the city will have received 12 to 20 inches of snow by the time the storm ends.

At the three major airports in the New York area, flights were "very minimal", the New York Times said citing Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that runs the airports.