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By Tim McLaughlin and Edith Honan
BOSTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - A record-breaking blizzard packing hurricane-force winds hammered the northeastern United States on Saturday, cutting power to 700,000 homes and businesses, shutting down travel and leaving at least four people dead.
The mammoth storm that stretched from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic dumped more than 3 feet (90 cm) of snow across the Northeast, the National Weather Service said. Coastal blizzard and flood warnings were in effect as the storm moved slowly eastward out to sea.
Stratford, Connecticut, Mayor John Harkins said he had never seen such a heavy snowfall, with rates reaching 6 inches (12.5 cm) an hour.
"Even the ploughs are getting stuck," Harkins told local WTNH television.
The storm centred its fury on Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, with the most snowfall, 38 inches (95 cm), in Milford, Connecticut.
Authorities ordered non-essential vehicles to stay off roads to allow snow plough crews to clear them. The ban left normally busy arteries such as Interstate 93 in Massachusetts nearly deserted.
About 2,200 flights were cancelled on Saturday, according to FlightAware, which tracks airline delays. Boston's Logan International Airport and Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, were shut down.
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick told a Boston radio station he would re-evaluate a vehicle travel ban he introduced on Friday, but would lift it only "when it's safe to do so."
The storm dumped 29.3 inches (73.2 cm) of snow on Portland, Maine, breaking a 1979 record. Winds gusted to 83 miles an hour (133 kph) at Cuttyhunk, New York, and brought down trees across the region.
The storm contributed to three deaths in Connecticut, Governor Dannel Malloy told a news conference.
An 80-year-old woman was killed by a hit-and-run driver while clearing her driveway, and a 40-year-old man collapsed while shovelling snow. One man, 73, slipped outside his home and was found dead on Saturday, Malloy said.
In Poughkeepsie, New York, a man in his 70s was struck and killed on a snowy roadway, local media reported.
A 30-year-old motorist in Auburn, New Hampshire, also died when his car went off the road, but the man's health might have been a factor in the accident, state authorities said.
Police in New York's Suffolk County, some using snowmobiles, rescued hundreds of motorists stuck overnight on the Long Island Expressway, said police spokesman Rich Glanzer. Some spent the night in their cars.
POWER LINES DOWN
Utility companies reported about 700,000 customers without electricity across nine states as the wet, heavy snow brought down tree branches and power lines.
The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts, lost power and shut down automatically late on Friday, but there was no threat to the public, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.
A storm surge combined with a high tide led to isolated coastal flooding. U.S. Route 1A was closed in New Hampshire because of debris and rocks that washed ashore, police said.
As the storm tapered off, streets in Cambridge, Massachusetts, were largely quiet except for snowblowers and shovelling. Kevin Tierney, 41, struggled with a snowblower to carve out a parking space in more than 2 feet (60 cm) of snow.
"I had this all planned out, and I don't know who said it, but everybody goes into a boxing match with a plan until they get punched in the mouth," said Tierney, an attorney.
Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and Maine declared a state of emergency before the storm. The U.S. Postal Service suspended mail delivery in the six New England states.
Although New York was hit by a foot (30 cm) of snow, Fashion Week went on unfazed as crowds arrived to watch the morning's shows by Ruffian and LaCoste.
Andrea Daney, a digital marketing senior manager for LaCoste, said she was trying to be discreet as she changed from snow boots to high-heeled crushed blue velvet ankle boots.
"I'm calling it the shoe storm of the century," she said. "You have to make adjustments to your outfit."
The snow delighted New England's ski industry. Greg Kwasnick, a spokesman for Loon Mountain in Lincoln, New Hampshire, said business was slightly slower than normal on Saturday but likely would pick up in coming days.
"Snow is what it's all about," he said.
(Additional reporting by Scott Malone in Boston, Kevin Gray in Miami, Ellen Wulfhorst in New York, Ian Simpson in Washington, Jason McLure in Maine, Dan Burns in Connecticut, Dan Lovering in Cambridge; Editing by Vicki Allen and Gunna Dickson)
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