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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Snow Brings Washington to a Standstill




WASHINGTON -- Snowbound and short of bureaucrats, the U.S. federal government was declared closed as the capital city hardened into an icy still life, out of bounds to all but the hardiest pedestrians and politicians.


"We appreciate all the white stuff since we don't have it," declared Senator Trent Lott, the majority leader from the southern state of Mississippi. He yielded to the storm and cut off the government's legislative deliberations soon after the executive branch closed Tuesday. Government offices remained closed Wednesday.


A visiting Chinese military delegation resorted to taking the subway rather than a motorcade to reach a high-level meeting with officials at the Pentagon.


The executive branch had first tried a partial work day under the "liberal leave" option that lets workers try to get to work or not. But this was abandoned in favor of an outright shutdown, the first in four years, as the driving snows intensified after dawn.


More than 30 centimeters of snow was measured in outlying suburbs where many of the 250,000 federal workers live.


To the south of Washington, the storm dumped nearly 60 centimeters of snow in some places before racing north along the Atlantic coast.


Traffic deaths on snowy and icy roads were reported from the Carolinas to New York, and two people were found dead of exposure in South Carolina.


In Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the search resumed Wednesday for a 5-year-old girl missing and feared dead after she and her 9-year-old brother tumbled into the icy Housatonic River while walking to school Tuesday. The boy was treated and released.


Hundreds of motorists waited for help Wednesday along Interstate 85 in North Carolina, which was virtually shut down for a 30-kilometer stretch near the Virginia state line. National Guardsmen and highway patrol officers were sent to help.


Some of the stranded motorists had been in their cars since Tuesday afternoon, they complained in cellular phone calls to broadcasters in the area.


Many schools and businesses across the East were closed again Wednesday, along with all Philadelphia city offices and courts and most Maryland state offices. And more than 150,000 people were still without power in the southeast.


"It's beautiful, but it took us by surprise," said Karen Duncan in York County, South Carolina, speaking from her new home that was left without heat.


Children freed from school in snow-encrusted South Carolina improvised sleds from the boogy boards that they normally ply at the resort area's beachfronts.


Eight hours of snowfall enforced a mood of small-town serenity upon the capital, exemplified at the Senate barbershop where two barbers showed up despite the shutdown. They quietly snipped away, talking about the weather with a few equally adventurous customers.


"Nobody told me not to work,'' a barber explained, speaking on the same condition of anonymity that seems to mark even the most larksome day at the Capitol.


The only other activity in sight Tuesday was a stakeout by reporters and photographers outside Room 410 in the Cannon House office building. Reporters slouched in a corridor clot of wintry mufti, awaiting the visiting Cuban grandmothers of Elian Gonzalez, the schoolboy refugee at the heart of the custody struggle raging between Havana and Miami's Little Havana.


"We didn't touch the snow; we only walked on it," one of the grandmothers replied when the news conference, like most discussions Tuesday, finally got around to asking about the weather.


President Bill Clinton talked of it at a news conference at which he pledged federal aid for the buried areas.


"I'm glad you all got here," he told reporters, beaming as he added, "I thought school was canceled today."


Work went forward on Clinton's final State of the Union address, to be delivered on Thursday. There was play, too, when Joe Lockhart, the president's spokesman, could not resist the drifts outside the West Wing and divided the staff for a snowball fight, insurgents against incumbents.


Blustery, icy snow lashed the capital Mall at midday when Derrick Wooley, 22, talked three friends into venturing with him to experience the very first snowfall of his life. "I love it," he said, chewing on some snow.


"Well, I find it makes me thirsty stomping around in it," said Wooley of Monterey, Louisiana, a new legislative intern at the American Association of Health.


Predictions had left the city expecting a storm less intense and later in arriving.


Forecasters admitted Wednesday that the storm was a nasty surprise.


"We're really cursing those computer models,'' said Andrew Woodcock, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Virginia. "They had the low [pressure system] way out to sea.''