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Storm-hit US digs out as death toll rises to 22
New York (AFP) Jan 24, 2016

New York children delight in winter wonderland
New York (AFP) Jan 24, 2016 - Excited children woke to a winter wonderland in New York on Sunday, shrieking with delight as they rode sleds in the sunshine after the second biggest snowfall in city records.

Thousands of families poured into the city's parks, where children flung themselves onto toboggans, engaged in snowball fights and parents introduced toddlers to the first major snow of their lives.

Intrepid dog walkers and the occasional jogger were the first to take to the streets, but as the sun got stronger and New Yorkers finished shovelling their sidewalks, the parks filled up.

"We love it, absolutely love it," laughed Bernie Sheary from Australia, out with his New Zealander wife and their 18-month-old daughter Chloe, who waddled across the sparkling snow chasing puppies.

"We're going to play around in this park for as long as possible, till she gets worn out or until I get worn out," he told AFP.

Dozens of children bundled into jackets, waterproof pants, hats and mittens tore across Carroll Park, a small neighborhood park in Brooklyn, many waiting for regular subway services to resume before frequenting larger hills in New York's bigger parks.

"They love it," said photographer Julien Capmeil, who brought five-year-old son Jake and six-year-old Ellie snowball fighting, sliding down a baby slope in the sled.

"They were out in the snow last night. We came out for a late-night snow session in the park when it was falling, it was really nice."

- Beautiful -

Jake sat in the snow, muffled up in a giant coat. "I like it when it snows," he told AFP. "It's really fun to play. I like sledding a lot."

"My favorite thing is to throw snowballs," said Ellie. "I like it when he pulls me on the sled and then it goes 'vroom,' and it glides and it's fun," she laughed.

At the other end of the park, three-year-old Dylan Crews scooped snow out of her red sled onto the ground, watched by her parents. "We're going to make a mountain," she told AFP.

"I love the snow," said her mother Amy, who works in marketing. "I think in winter you're too hunkered down in your house and everybody wants to go out and explore and kind of get the kid in them out."

Her husband Jim agreed. "It's beautiful," he said. "People can be more like themselves and play and have fun and not worry about life for a minute."

Jessica Edwards, a filmmaker from Canada, joined in the fun, pulling four-year-old daughter Hazel down a hill in a sled.

"Oh my God she's so excited, we left the house this morning and we packed a bunch of stuff to make a snowman," she said.

"When the trains open again, we'll get up to Prospect Park and try and get on the bigger hills."

- Old school -

The blizzard also brought back memories for Anda Bordean, of winter life when she was a child growing up in Romania.

She said her three-year-old son Nicholas begged to go out as early as possible, fearing he had missed the best as the main roads cleared.

"His main fear this morning was that it would be all melted," laughed Bordean, who works for an asset management company.

For two days the family have been keeping a carrot, hoping to make a snowman, but the snow was too powdery on Sunday to stick together well.

"There was a lot of anticipation, actually ever since they started talking about it on the news he kept saying, 'We're going to see snow, we're going to see snow,'" she said.

"I wish this was a long weekend," she added.

During the blizzard on Saturday, the family took advantage of the travel ban to taste a different world on roads that saw no snow plow for hours.

"It was almost like old school," she said. "It was so amazing to go with him in the sled on the street with nothing to worry about. There wasn't anyone."

The eastern United States dug out Sunday from an historic blizzard that killed at least 22 people, but as New York slowly lumbered back to life in preparation for the work week, major travel disruptions persisted in Washington.

The storm -- dubbed "Snowzilla" -- walloped a dozen states from Friday into early Sunday, affecting an estimated 85 million residents who were told to stay indoors and off the roads for their own safety.

The 26.8 inches (68 centimeters) of snow that fell in New York's Central Park was the second-highest accumulation in the city since records began in 1869, and more than 22 inches paralyzed the capital Washington.

Near-record-breaking snowfall was recorded in other cities up and down the East Coast, with Philadelphia and Baltimore also on the receiving end of some of the worst that Mother Nature could fling at them.

But as the storm ended and temperatures rose Sunday, New York emerged from a total shutdown with a travel ban lifted. Roads were reopened throughout the city, on Long Island and in New Jersey.

Thousands of people flocked to parks, tobogganing, organizing snowball fights and strapping on cross-country skis, as children delighted in a winter wonderland under glorious sunshine.

But as the death toll from storm-related deaths rose, authorities advised caution despite the picture postcard scenes outside.

"We urge all New Yorkers not to travel on our roads except when necessary, and to be extremely careful when driving," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference.

"Our tireless sanitation workers are out in full force and we must give them space to clear the roads. If you go outside, use caution and stay alert for ice and cold temperatures," he added.

- Outdoors fun -

Broadway resumed shows, which were canceled on Saturday, and museums reopened in New York, as snow plows quickly cleared the main avenues and temperatures hovered at about 32 degrees Fahrenheit (zero Celsius).

Jessica Edwards, a filmmaker from Canada, joined in the fun, pulling four-year-old daughter Hazel down a hill in a sled in a New York park.

"Oh my God, she's so excited -- we left the house this morning and we packed a bunch of stuff to make a snowman," she told AFP.

In Washington, enthusiasts organized a "Star Wars"-themed snowball fight among mostly young adults in the Dupont Circle neighborhood.

"After being locked in for a couple of days, it's fun," said 33-year-old participant Laura Lorenzo.

Forecasters raised concerns about melting snow, raising the specter of flooding and dangerous black ice, particularly in coastal towns.

Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey were the hardest-hit areas outside New York and Washington. "A few locations came close to, or surpassed all-time one-day and two-day snow records," said the National Weather Service.

The fatalities occurred in Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia, while hundreds of thousands were left without power at the height of the storm.

Despite the rising temperatures, thousands of air passengers remained stranded, and in Washington, public schools were to remain closed and only limited public transport to resume Monday.

- Travel misery -

Nearly 3,500 domestic and international flights were canceled on Sunday, FlightAware said, with Reagan National and Dulles International airports in the US capital to remain closed Sunday.

Washington's public transit system announced that limited rail and bus service would resume on Monday, and said Metro fares would be waived as trains would begin running only every 20-25 minutes.

The House of Representatives opted to remain out of session for the coming week due to the severity of the winter storm -- with no votes set until February 1.

In New York, De Blasio called for extra emergency snow laborers to come forward to remove snow and ice from bus stops, crosswalks and fire hydrants for pay starting at $13.50 an hour.

"This was one of the worst storms to ever hit New York City and we need all hands on deck to dig us out," he said.

"People want to start to go outside and start shoveling and clearing their walks and driveways," said New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican presidential contender who left the campaign trail to oversee the emergency response in his state.

"This is very heavy snow so I ask that they please be careful as they clean up their own property today or their businesses."

Many of the storm-related deaths were people who suffered heart attacks while shoveling.

Nearly 150,000 power outages were reported in North Carolina alone at the height of the storm, emergency officials said. On Sunday, that number had been whittled down to about 50,000.

Snow and sleet even buffeted the southern state of Tennessee -- unusual for the region.


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