PHILADELPHIA — The second of back-to-back blizzards that smothered the East Coast and eclipsed seasonal snowfall records with more than a month of winter remaining had tapered off by Thursday, although governments and schools remained closed to contend with the aftermath.
In Washington, D.C., the federal government planned to be closed for a fourth straight day, while city agencies and schools in the hardest-hit regions also scored snow days. The nation's capital joined Philadelphia and Baltimore in logging their snowiest winters in history.
The latest storm dumped nearly 16 inches in Philadelphia, about 20 inches in central New Jersey, and totals ranged from 10 to 16 inches around New York City.
"It seemed extreme, what they were predicting," said custodial worker Robert Valasquez, of South Philadelphia, as he walked to a downtown subway station on Wednesday afternoon for a ride home from his job. "How am I going to get to work tomorrow? I don't even know if it will be possible."
Road crews worked to clear Interstate 76 and I-676 in Philadelphia, which closed Wednesday to leave the city of 1.5 million residents with only one usable major artery. Authorities reopened the two routes Thursday morning.
The D.C. Department of Transportation urged motorists to stay off city streets Thursday morning to keep them clear for emergency response, tree and road crews.
Elsewhere, emergency officials in eastern Pennsylvania reported more than 200 vehicles, mostly trucks, were stranded Wednesday along I-78 as snow was falling at about 2 inches an hour. Berks County Emergency Services Director Theodore Cole said gasoline, food and water were delivered to the stranded drivers before plows could clear paths for them by midnight, but the roadway remained closed on Thursday.
In northeast Maryland, staffers at the Harford County Emergency Operations Center fielded several calls per minute from residents struggling to meet the financial demands of a second snowstorm just days after the first. One woman called to say she couldn't afford to stay at her motel another night and was about to be evicted. Homeless shelters were full, forcing the county to pay for motel rooms for some people.
"We really can't have people pushed out into the snow," said Scott Gibson, the county's director of human resources. "The motels are our second line of defense."
There was plenty of work to be done before New Jersey could return to normal after the latest blizzard. Electric crews were working to restore power to about 46,000 homes and businesses that lost electricity, but the NJ Transit agency resumed bus routes Thursday morning and open nearly all train stations so residents could try to get to work.
In neighboring New York, public schools were reopening Thursday, a day after Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave the city's 1.1 million public school students only their third snow day in six years. Bloomberg said the city was working overtime to clear streets and plow major thoroughfares in time for Thursday's morning rush hour.
Some New Yorkers and tourists took advantage of theater tickets discounted to fill empty seats. "Wicked" had a $61.25 "snow-day" special. There were $31.50 tickets at "Mamma Mia!" ''Hair" trumpeted $40 tickets for students with valid ID. Good seats at those shows usually sell for $100 or more.
George and Natividad Sanchez trudged over slushy sidewalks in boots, parkas and scarves to take their 2-year-old daughter to see "Sesame Street Live: When Elmo Grows Up."
"I didn't want to disappoint her," George Sanchez said as the family arrived for the show at a theater in Madison Square Garden.
For many families, the first storm was a fun weekend diversion. People even went skiing past Washington's monuments. But Wednesday's blizzard quickly became a serious safety concern. The Pennsylvania governor shut down some highways, including eventually I-78, and warned that people who drove were risking their lives.
"Increasing winds are causing whiteout conditions in many areas of the state," Gov. Ed Rendell said early Thursday, after reopening three highways.
As of Wednesday, Baltimore had 72.3 inches so far this winter, the Washington area had 54.9 inches and Philadelphia had 70.3 inches. The previous records for snowiest winters were 62.5 inches in Baltimore in 1995-96; 54.4 inches in Washington in 1898-99; and 65.5 inches in Philadelphia in 1995-96.
In Virginia, where some areas had snow totals exceeding 30 inches from the two storms, winds howled at 50 mph and temperatures plunged. Gov. Bob McDonnell urged people to stay indoors.
Syeed Zada, a plow driver for the Virginia Department of Transportation, said the snow "reminds me of when I was driving tractor-trailers in Saudi Arabia, and the sandstorm starts and you can't see the roads."
More than 100,000 utility customers in Pennsylvania were without power. Some never got it back after the last storm.
But the news wasn't all bad. Washington has not had a homicide in a week. Ski areas were doing brisk business, when people could get to them. And private contractors were making money plowing driveways and parking lots.
But many people were just ready for the ordeal to end.
In a yard in Westmont, N.J., someone used bright orange paint to scrawl nature a message on a white backdrop: "Dear Mr Frost," it read. "We're good w/ snow."
Associated Press writers Kiley Armstrong and Jennifer Peltz in New York; Brett Zongker, Brian Bakst, Sarah Brumfield and Ann Sanner in Washington; Sarah Karush in Alexandria, Va.; Alex Dominguez in Baltimore; Kathleen Miller in Arlington, Va.; Ben Nuckols in Bel Air, Md.; and Dan Nephin in Bentleyville, Pa., contributed to this report.