WASHINGTON (AP) - A winter storm socked the East Coast on Saturday and dumped more than a foot of snow in some areas, creating treacherous conditions and misery for motorists on the weekend before Christmas.
Officials urged residents to stay indoors, and many heeded the warning. Stores and malls usually bustling with shoppers were nearly deserted in some areas. Airports canceled flights or were operating with excessive delays. Drivers abandoned their cars as roads and highways became slick, and at times, impassable.
Forecasts called for up to 20 inches of snow across the region and a blizzard warning was in effect for the nation's capital, which was virtually a sea of white. Tens of thousands of power outages were reported across the region.
Snowplows cleared the runway at Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Washington as President Barack Obama returned from climate
talks in Copenhagen. The White House said Obama rode in a motorcade
back to the White House, instead of taking his helicopter, because of the conditions.
In western Virginia, officials said several hundred motorists became stranded and had to be rescued by four-wheeled vehicles and Humvees driven by the National Guard. About 100 people were taken to shelters in two counties, said Virginia Department of Emergency Management spokesman Bob Spieldenner.
"Some folks have decided to stay in vehicles, others have been taken to shelters," Spieldenner said. "We're definitely trying to keep people off the roads."
Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said traffic was moving, though slowly. There were reports of jackknifed tractor-trailers and some semis on their sides. One fatality was reported and troopers had responded to more than 1,500 accidents statewide.
"It's looks probably a lot worse than it is," she said.
At Crump's old country store at the intersection of two country roads outside Richmond, Va., owner Suzanne Rudd stood with a man dressed in a Santa costume and waved to the few motorists who dared to venture out. Rudd said only six children had come by so far.
"Normally we'd have a long line here but people are having a hard time getting out," Rudd said.
Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty had declared a snow emergency for the city and forecasters said the conditions could worsen. All of the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo were closed.
"It's going to be an all day thing. It's going to be on and off," said National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Witt in Sterling, Va.
Philadelphia also declared a snow emergency and the school district canceled all weekend activities. Governors in West Virginia and Virginia also declared states of emergency.
Most of the flights at Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport had been canceled.
"It's going to be very challenging for people who weren't able to get out today to rebook on flights this week," said Tara Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
Joy Rood, 20, played solitaire as she waited at Reagan for a flight to visit family in Los Angeles with her husband, who was asleep at a table outside an airport cafe.
"We had a canceled flight at Dulles at 6 yesterday because the plane had difficulties," she said. "So they cabbed us over here to - uh, what airport am I at?"
Forecasters said the storm system was expected to generate winds up to 35 miles per hour, which could cause near-whiteout conditions. It could be the most snow in the nation's capital since a February 2003 storm dumped nearly 27 inches at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
At a Walmart in the Richmond, Va., area, Nnika White took advantage of the mostly desolate store, buying a drum set for her 2 1/2 year son. White, dressed in a toboggan, scarf and flannel-like jacket, said she works long hours at the law firm she owns and doesn't get much time to shop.
"It's nice because no one's here. For shopping, it's great, but the roads are very, very bad," she said.
Snow, ice and freezing rain also hit western North Carolina on Friday, knocking out power to almost 60,000 customers around the Asheville area.
After a warm start to the ski season that delayed openings of many resorts, the storm arrived just in time for West Virginia, dumping more than 20 inches on some slopes, said Joe Stevens, a spokesman for the area's ski association.
"These are midseason conditions," he said. "The storm couldn't have come at a better time."
Highway crews in Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia were spraying brine on heavily traveled roads to help prevent snow and ice from sticking.
The storm came from the Gulf and drenched South Florida with rain starting late Thursday, leaving flooded homes and stranded drivers.
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