The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Eight dead, streets flooded, cities paralyzed by massive East Coast storm

A nor’easter is pounding the East Coast with heavy rain, strong winds and some snow. The storm is causing flooding along coastal areas of the Eastern Seaboard. (Video: Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

QUINCY, Mass. — For two days, a deadly nor’easter turned a thousand-mile stretch of the East Coast into a wind tunnel, leaving millions without power, paralyzing flooded cities and towns and claiming the lives of at least eight people — some of whom had tried in vain to take shelter from hurricane-force winds.

With the worst over by Saturday, people from Maine to Georgia emerged from homes to take stock of damage from a storm that could be harsher than the “bomb cyclone” that struck the Eastern Seaboard two months ago.

Some of those first glimpses came in the dark. At the storm’s peak, winds that reached 93 mph had knocked out power to more than 2 million people, including more than 400,000 in Massachusetts and 320,000 across the state of New York. Thousands of flights were grounded at some of the country’s busiest airports, causing a ripple effect of delays and cancellations around the world.

On the ground, highways across the Northeast were clogged with tractor trailers and buses, which were prohibited from crossing some of the region’s massive bridges because of the treacherous winds. In smaller cities and towns, particularly those near the vulnerable coast, roads had turned into rivers.

Authorities called for people to seek shelter or evacuate from flood-prone areas. Still, at least eight had died during the storm as of Saturday night, according to the Associated Press, including two children.

A 6-year-old died in his bed when a tree came crashing into his family’s home in Chester, Va., and an 11-year-old died in New York.

A 77-year-old woman in Baltimore County, Md., was crushed by a tree branch while checking the mail, and a 72-year-old Newport, R.I., man, was also killed by a falling tree.

Four men were killed when trees fell on their cars — in James City County, Va.; Connecticut; Massachusetts; and Pennsylvania.

Many others recounted too-close calls.

First responders in Quincy, Mass., spent Friday night rescuing dozens suddenly trapped by rising floodwaters.

“I’m fortunate to get rescued,” Christine Way-Cotter of Quincy told Boston CBS affiliate WBZ, according to CNN. “Our house is lifted so, like, nothing came into our first floor, but our whole basement is probably six feet underwater.”

Joan Gordon, 69, of Quincy went through a nightmare during the storm and it hasn’t ended yet.

On Friday, a tall wave shattered the glass back wall of the house where she has lived for 25 years, Gordon said. Huddled on the second floor, she watched as a wave swept her refrigerator out of the house and into the driveway across the street.

“I’ve lost everything. Everything is gone,” said Gordon, speaking Saturday from an American Red Cross shelter at Quincy High School where she had spent the night. “I don’t know if we’re ever going to get back in.”

Gordon said she isn’t sure what her next step will be. She hasn’t been able to reach nearby family to ask for a place to stay, because she didn’t have the time to grab her phone once the wave hit.

Thirty-two people were sheltered at Quincy High School on Friday night, with 17 still there by midafternoon Saturday.

Because of the dangerous conditions, more than 3,000 domestic and international flights were canceled in the United States on Friday, including complete ground stops at LaGuardia Airport in New York and Dulles Airport outside the District.

One flight encountered such heavy turbulence that “pretty much everyone on the plane threw up. Pilots were on the verge of throwing up,” the pilot said in an urgent report from a regional jetliner from Charlottesville. Amtrak also briefly suspended train service because of outages in New York City.

For most other people, the storm was a blustery inconvenience, dropping large amounts of rain and snow. High tides that neared record levels pushed seawater into nearby neighborhoods.

Portions of New York state received more than three feet of snowSyracuse University canceled a full day of classes because of snow for only the third time in its history.

In Duxbury, about 35 miles southeast of Boston, Eric Giumetti, the owner of Duxbury Pizza, reflected on 40 years of bad weather. He remembered his father-in-law keeping the pizza shop open during a 1978 blizzard, lighting the store with headlights from cars in the parking lot.

In 2018, he’s kept the lights on with a portable generator, purchased five years ago, when he thought superstorms and the ensuing blackouts would become an annual event, following Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

He put a power strip on the wall so people could charge their phones and told The Washington Post he was expecting a big lunchtime crowd.

“Probably everyone’s out now surveying all the damage, and in another hour or two, it’ll really get going,” he said at about 11:45 a.m. “They usually take their beach ride and then come by here to get something to eat.”

Duxbury resident Jon Olson said he was amazed by the number of downed trees, including one directly across Marshall Street from his house, which dates to the 1870s. “Every place I look there’s trees down,” he said. “I’ve never seen this many.”

By Saturday afternoon, the highest winds and heaviest precipitation had abated, and high tides were closer to normal levels.

Entire towns south of Boston remained in the dark through most of the day, with still-gusting winds making it too dangerous for work crews to go up in bucket trucks.

Many coastal roads remained closed because of flooding. Downed trees — some already chainsawed out of the way by work crews — were visible on nearly every main road and plenty of smaller ones in Duxbury and Marshfield.

About 500,000 households on the East Coast had their power restored by earlier Saturday, but officials said wind gusts were slowing repair efforts, according to the Associated Press.

Theodore L. Keon, director of coastal resources for Chatham, a particularly vulnerable seaside town on the southeastern tip of Cape Cod, spent the days before the storm supervising employees hauling in tons of sand.

He told The Post the full extent of the pummeling that oceanside towns have taken is yet to be seen.

“I’m concerned mostly because of the duration of this event,” Keon said Friday. “The last two January storms, while significant in terms of water elevation, were of fairly short duration.

“When you’ve got a storm like this that sits off the coast, and you’ve got the constant pounding of the waves and high water because it’s not receding, that’s potentially more significant. Three or maybe even four high-tide cycles can really cause a lot of damage.”

Weintraub reported from Duxbury; Wootson and Wang reported from Washington. Bill Hewitt contributed reporting from Dennis, Mass. Eli Rosenberg and Keith McMillan contributed from Washington. 

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