'Kind of awful': Another snowstorm clobbers the Northeast

Published: Wednesday, March 07, 2018 @ 12:22 AM
Updated: Wednesday, March 07, 2018 @ 12:18 AM

            A man walks back from his mailbox during a winter storm, Wednesday, March 7, 2018, in Springfield, Pa. The second big, blustery storm to hit the Northeast in less than a week brought wet, heavy snow to a corner of the country where tens of thousands of people were still waiting for the power to come back on from the previous bout. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
A man walks back from his mailbox during a winter storm, Wednesday, March 7, 2018, in Springfield, Pa. The second big, blustery storm to hit the Northeast in less than a week brought wet, heavy snow to a corner of the country where tens of thousands of people were still waiting for the power to come back on from the previous bout. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

For the second time in less than a week, a storm rolled into the Northeast with wet, heavy snow Wednesday, grounding flights, closing schools and bringing another round of power outages to a corner of the country still recovering from the previous blast of winter.

The nor'easter knocked out electricity to hundreds of thousands of customers and produced "thundersnow" as it made its way up the coast, with flashes of lightning and booming thunder from the Philadelphia area to New York City. A New Jersey middle school teacher was struck by lightning but survived.

Officials urged people to stay off the roads.

"It's kind of awful," said New York University student Alessa Raiford, who put two layers of clothing on a pug named Jengo before taking him for a walk in slushy, sloppy Manhattan, where rain gave way to wet snow in the afternoon. "I'd rather that it be full-on snowing than rain and slush. It just makes it difficult."

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning into Thursday morning from the Philadelphia area through most of New England.

The storm unloaded snow at a rate of 2 or 3 inches an hour, with some places in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut getting well over a foot by Wednesday night. Butler, New Jersey, got 22 inches, Sloatsburg, New York, 23 inches and Newtown, Connecticut, 14 inches.

Major cities along the Interstate 95 corridor saw much less. Philadelphia International Airport recorded about 6 inches and New York City received a little over 2.

More than 2,600 flights across the region — about 1,900 in the New York metro area alone — were canceled.

It wasn't much better on the ground, with Pennsylvania and New York banning big rigs from some major highways and transit agencies reducing or canceling service on trains and buses.

The storm wasn't predicted to be as severe as the nor'easter that toppled trees, inundated coastal communities and caused more than 2 million power outages from Virginia to Maine last Friday.

But it still proved to be a headache for the tens of thousands of customers still in the dark from the earlier storm — and for the crews trying to restore power to them.

In New Jersey, the state's major utilities reported more than 300,000 customers without power by Wednesday night, with some left over from last week. PECO, Pennsylvania's largest electric utility, reported more than 100,000 homes and businesses without power.

Wind gusts up to 60 mph were forecast on Cape Cod, 45 mph at the Jersey shore and 30 mph around suburban Philadelphia.

The wind knocked gobs of slush and snow off buildings and trees in Philadelphia and New York, forcing pedestrians to watch out. Across the region, power lines and tree branches sagged precariously under the weight of the wet show. Suburban streets were littered with downed trees and branches.

"I don't think I'm ready for this to happen again," Caprice Dantzler said as she walked through Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square. She said many trees that crashed into cars and homes and blocked streets during the last storm had yet to be removed.

A few hardy tourists waded through puddles and slush to visit the World Trade Center memorial, where Juan Escobar, visiting from Cali, Colombia, with his wife, Daniela, snapped a selfie in front of one of the reflecting pools. Escobar said it was the second time in his life he had seen snow.

"It's awesome!" he said. "We are cold as hell, but we are happy."

Ten people were taken to hospitals with symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning after running a generator inside a home in North White Plains, New York, police said. All were expected to survive.

A teacher was struck by lightning while holding an umbrella on bus duty outside a school in Manchester Township, New Jersey, police said. The woman felt a tingling sensation but didn't lose consciousness. She was taken to a hospital with minor injuries.

Members of the Northeastern University women's basketball team pushed their bus back on course after it was stuck in the snow outside a practice facility in Philadelphia. The Huskies were in the city to compete in the 2018 CAA Women's Basketball Tournament. The team posted a video of the feat on its Twitter account.

Amtrak suspended service between New York City and Boston until at least 10 a.m. Thursday. New York City's Metro-North commuter railroad suspended service on lines connecting the city to its northern suburbs and Connecticut because of downed trees, and the Long Island Rail Road also was experiencing delays. School districts and government offices from Delaware northward closed, and the governors of New Jersey and Pennsylvania declared states of emergency.

Officials warned homeowners of the danger of heart attacks from shoveling heavy snow.

In New Jersey, a volunteer firefighter used the snow to save a house from major fire damage.

Stillwater firefighter Joe McAllister didn't have any firefighting equipment when he got to the house, so he improvised, grabbing a shovel and tossing snow onto the fire, according to nj.com. McAllister knocked down most of the flames by the time other firefighters arrived.


Porter reported from Newark, New Jersey. Associated Press writers Michael Catalini in Morrisville, Pennsylvania; Michael Sisak and Rod Hicks in Philadelphia; Wayne Parry in Atlantic City, New Jersey; and Bruce Shipkowski, in Toms River, New Jersey, contributed.

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Fake Facebook page sends city into tizzy over snakes

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 12:19 AM

(Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
Carl Court/Getty Images
(Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)(Carl Court/Getty Images)

When most of northwest Georgia was preparing for severe storms, one city had to contend with the idea that snakes are lurking in sewers — or so they thought

>> Read more trending news

Calhoun Mayor Jimmy Palmer said ­the “City of Calhoun, Gordon County GA” Facebook page — where a post about snakes originated — is fake. 

“My wife saw it and actually called me,” Palmer said

The post, which has been up since 2:27 p.m. Monday, alleges a Calhoun police officer killed the “copperhead as it came out of the sewer in front of the courthouse” and urges residents to avoid the sewers, which may have more snakes. The post has garnered 19,000 reactions and more than 123,000 shares on Facebook — and it still has some panicked. 

“I’ve had comments like ‘Is it safe to walk down the street’ and those things,” Palmer said. “I don’t think the people who put it on there realize the impact.” 

The page, which has more than 12,000 followers, has been so believable that other law enforcement agencies have tagged the page or shared its posts, WSB-TV reported. Police say it’s been difficult finding the owner since the page is usually taken down before the person is caught. The page was still open just after 8 p.m. Tuesday. 

The city attorney plans to send a notice to Facebook notifying it of the fake page. The notice reads in part: “The objection is that this Facebook page impersonates and misrepresents to be the City’s official page by displaying a version of the official municipal seal and describes itself clearly as a ‘government organization.’

Fake city pages are hardly new. 

In October 2016, comedian Ben Palmer created a fake city of Atlanta Facebook page, poking fun at the city’s crime and public safety efforts. The city, however, responded to the Facebook page’s use of the trademarked Atlanta City Seal, which was used without proper authorization. Creative changes were made to the satirical page’s seal to avoid trademark conflicts. 

But while the fake city of Atlanta page is still going strong (it has more than 154,000 followers), some are hoping the fake Calhoun page is removed from Facebook. 

Calhoun resident Matt Wiley said he is happy the city is adamant about the page’s removal: “For the sake of the city, that’s not a bad move just to make sure the people are informed. If you start spreading misinformation, panic might ensue, especially if it’s an alligator or a giant snake.”

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What is Easter Monday and how is it celebrated?

Published: Wednesday, March 21, 2018 @ 11:34 PM

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Alex Wong/Getty Images
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In many places around the world, Easter Monday is a day to get outside, spend time with your family and have picnics as spring begins to blossom.  In other places, it’s traditions that, while odd, are still honored and celebrated centuries later. With deep roots in Europe, it is not widely celebrated in the United States.

So what is Easter Monday and what do people do? Here’s a quick look.

The name

In some places the day after Easter is simply called Easter Monday. In other places, it’s Bright Monday, Renewal Monday, Wet Monday, or  Dyngus Day.

It was once known as “Black Monday” and was, for a time, considered unlucky.

Who celebrates the day?

The day is a major holiday in the Eastern Orthodox community. It marks the beginning of “Bright Week” in the religion. Countries across Eastern and Western Europe, in particular, participate in Easter Monday observances.

What do they do?

In medieval England, tradition called for a man to lift a woman three times by the arms and legs. In Ireland, the day was known as the Day of Feasts. In Hungary, the tradition was for men to dunk their wife or girlfriend into water for good health, leading to the day being called Dunking Day.

In Guyana, people fly kites, which are made on Holy Saturday, the Saturday before Easter. People in the Netherlands have a festive breakfast then go hiking. Similarly, in Portugal and Italy people go to the countryside  for picnics.

In London, there is a parade in Hyde Park.

In the U.S., Easter Monday is largely ignored. The most notable celebration happens at the White House where the president sponsors the annual Easter Egg Roll.

The tradition of the egg roll dates back to the 1870s when kids in the Washington D.C. area would take their Easter eggs to Capitol Hill to roll them. Congress, moving quickly to stem the fun, soon passed a bill outlawing egg rolling at the Capitol.

President Rutherford Hayes, after being approached by a group of kids who were looking for a place to roll their eggs, issued an order that allowed egg rolling to take place on the White House grounds.

Since then, with a few exceptions, eggs have been rolled on the White House lawn.

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55 hours of terror, and a final blast in Austin serial bombings

Published: Wednesday, March 21, 2018 @ 10:30 PM

Austin Package Explosions: Suspect Dead

The trip wire that set off the fourth explosion in Austin’s horrifying March, authorities now chillingly say, was tied to a “caution, children at play” sign that the accused bomber had bought at a Home Depot.

>> Read more trending news 

But the breaching of that wire and the resultant detonation Sunday, which sent two men to the hospital, also set off an increasingly feverish 55 hours of escalating bombing activity and community quaking that ended only with bombing suspect Mark Conditt’s death in yet another blast.

Austin was already reeling after two deaths in three explosions in packages left on doorsteps on March 2 and March 12. A Northeast Austin construction project manager and a promising teenage musician, both part of prominent African-American families in Austin, had been killed, and two others injured by the first wave of bombs. But given the consistent method of those first three bombings, the danger seemed recognizable: Avoid picking up any unexpected package on the porch and perhaps the worst could be avoided.

>> Related: Austin bombings: 25-minute recording left behind by suspected bomber

But the Travis Country bombing on March 18, which was triggered by a trip wire, followed closely by an explosion of a package at a FedEx sorting facility north of San Antonio just over a day later, and then the discovery of another package containing a bomb at a FedEx facility in Southeast Austin, signaled that something more random was happening. The bomber, it now seemed, had everyone in his sights, and any package was now suspect.

And the whole nation was watching.

Common Traits Of A Serial Bomber

By Monday, commentators as diverse as President Donald Trump, University of Texas football coach Tom Herman and Chance the Rapper had weighed in on the run of bombings. Dozens of Texas Rangers and something like 500 agents from the FBI, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Postal Service had descended on Austin, pouring over physical and electronic evidence with Austin police. Austin and its troubles were now the subject of cut-ins on cable news and prominent coverage in The New York Times and Washington Post.

>> Related: The Austin bomber: Read all of the Statesman coverage

And officials, given the bomber’s new tactics, began to describe his handiwork as “sophisticated.” But even from the outside, the thought occurred that the increasing pace and morphing form of the attacks in fact could be rash and play into the hands of the bomber’s battalion of pursuers.

So, if Austin writ large seemed to hold its composure in the face of the final two frenzied days, perhaps panic was staved off by this sense that the bomber’s increasing boldness would lead to his capture.

FedEx bombs

After a relatively calm Monday, the fifth explosion came just after midnight Tuesday in an unexpected spot: that FedEx plant a few hundred yards west of Interstate 35 in Schertz. The bomb — sent from a FedEx store in Sunset Valley and intended for delivery to an undisclosed address in Austin — instead detonated on a conveyor belt at the Schertz facility. No one was injured.

>> Related: Who is Mark Anthony Conditt, the suspected Austin bomber?

Austinites, awaking to this news Tuesday morning and still trying to put it in context, quickly learned that law enforcement had flocked to yet another FedEx facility near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. They discovered another bomb in a package intended for somewhere in Austin — this one intact — and confiscated what seemed to be another important piece of evidence.

That package too had been sent from the Sunset Valley FedEx shop, officials said.

>> Related: Austin bombing suspect Mark A. Conditt proposed ending sex offender registry, blog says

That meant that virtually any package or backpack — along the road, at work, arriving at a home — was now suspect. At least one delivery service instructed its couriers to knock on doors rather than merely leave a package for recipients to find later. Calls to 911 in Central Texas for “suspicious” packages swelled to over 1,000 cumulatively. And Austin interim Police Chief Brian Manley took time out from the around-the-clock manhunt to brief a skittish Austin City Council about the effort.

>> Related: How was Mark Anthony Conditt caught? ‘Exotic’ batteries and cell-site analysis

Interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, right, stands with other members of law enforcement as he briefs the media, Wednesday, March 21, 2018, in the Austin suburb of Round Rock, Texas. The suspect in a spate of bombing attacks that have terrorized Austin over the past month blew himself up with an explosive device as authorities closed in, the police said early Wednesday. (Eric Gay/AP)

A timeline of the Austin bombings

Net closing

Perhaps the best illustration of the public’s waxing anxiety came Tuesday evening in what at first seemed like the bomber’s next strike, at a Goodwill Industries store on Brodie Lane in South Austin. An injured man was rushed to St. David’s South Austin Medical Center. Flashing lights and reporters swarmed the area.

But, were all told soon after that what had detonated was an “artillery simulator,” a tube-like device used in military exercises that gives off a loud report and a flash of fire when activated. Someone other than Conditt, it appears — whether with dubious judgment or ill intent is not known at this point — had left a box of donated items at Goodwill, officials said, including the dangerous hardware. A worker’s hands were burned when the device went off.

>> Related: Serial bomber Ted Kaczynski kept feds at bay for 17 years before capture

What the public could not know at this point was that law enforcement had identified Conditt as the sole suspect behind the run of bombings, and in fact Tuesday evening filed federal criminal charges for unlawful possession and transfer of a destructive device against the 23-year-old Pflugerville man. The net was closing.

Suspected Austin serial bomber, 23-year-old Mark Conditt.(Austin Community College District)

His end, and soon thereafter something like a community-wide release of breath and thankfulness, came somewhere around 2:45 a.m. Wednesday. Police had staked out Conditt, who was parked at a hotel on I-35’s west side in Round Rock, and were waiting for S.W.A.T. officers to arrive. But Conditt, perhaps perceiving their presence, pulled out onto the southbound frontage road lane.

But he soon swerved to a stop in the grass median. Moments later, what would be Conditt’s seventh known bomb exploded, this one in the cab of his red Nissan Pathfinder.

>> Related: Photos: Austin police investigate explosions

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20 bullets fired: Police kill unarmed black man holding cellphone in own backyard

Published: Wednesday, March 21, 2018 @ 3:56 PM

Unarmed Black Man Killed In Own Backyard By Police While Holding Cellphone

Family, friends and the Sacramento community are demanding answers in the death of an unarmed black man killed by police in his own backyard Sunday night, holding nothing but a cellphone in his hand.

Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn told Fox40 that officers fired on Stephon Alonzo “Zoe” Clark a total of 20 times. Clark, 23, died at the scene, leaving behind two young sons. 

Hahn was on hand Tuesday night at a City Council meeting, where several residents of the community protested the officer-involved shooting. 

“To hell with Sac PD,” resident Rebecca Person said, according to the news station. “I’m sick of them always murdering black youth.”

“What is the police’s job to do? To shoot people that are unarmed in their own backyard?” another resident, Robert Copeland, asked. 

Fox40 reported that the Sacramento Police Department is under fire for its morphing story of what Clark was carrying. 

“They put one story out that he may have been armed. They put out another that he had a toolbar, whatever that is,” Tanya Faison, a member of the Sacramento chapter of Black Lives Matter, told the news station. “Then they put out that he had a wrench and then they put out that he just had a cellphone. 

“They need to get it together.”

The two officers involved in the shooting are being criticized for waiting five minutes, until additional officers came to the scene, to handcuff Clark and begin rendering first aid.

Department officials are also facing criticism for not promptly informing Clark’s family, including the grandparents and siblings he lived with, that he was the one gunned down in their yard. 

Fox40 reported that Clark’s family called 911 for help after hearing gunshots right outside their window. 

Sequita Thompson, Clark’s grandmother, told the Sacramento Bee that she was sitting in her dining room when she heard the shots.

“The only thing that I heard was, ‘pow, pow, pow, pow,’ and I got to the ground,” Thompson told the newspaper

Thompson described crawling to where her 7-year-old granddaughter slept on a couch in an adjacent den, where she got the girl onto the floor. She then made her way to her husband, who uses a wheelchair, and he dialed 911. 

Thompson said neither she nor her husband heard officers issue any commands prior to firing the fatal gunshots. 

The grieving grandmother told the Bee that investigators interviewed her for hours about what she heard, but never told her it was her grandson who had been killed. She finally looked out a window and saw his body.

“I opened that curtain and he was dead. I started screaming,” Thompson said

Sequita Thompson points to the white area on her family's patio where she said her grandson, 23-year-old Stephon Clark, lay dead after being shot Sunday, March 18, 2018, by police in Sacramento, Calif. Relatives, activists and Sacramento officials are questioning why officers shot at an unarmed black man 20 times, killing him, when he turned out to be holding only a cellphone in his own backyard.((Renee C. Byer/The Sacramento Bee via AP))

Hahn said he and his investigators initially had no idea Clark was related to the homeowners. 

“We found out they were related because the family told us so,” the chief told Fox40.

Hahn said in a news release Monday that officers were called to the family’s neighborhood around 9:15 p.m. Sunday on a report of a man breaking several car windows. The suspect was described as a thin man, just over 6 feet in height and wearing a black hoodie and dark pants. The caller said the man was hiding in a backyard.

Dispatchers sent officers to the scene, where the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department also had a helicopter searching for the suspect from the air, the news release said. About 12 minutes after the 911 call was made, the crew in the helicopter told officers on the ground they saw the alleged suspect in a backyard, where he picked up what looked like a toolbar and broke the sliding glass door of the home before running south toward the front of the house. 

That house was next door to the Thompsons’ home.

The officers on the ground, directed to his location by the helicopter crew, confronted Clark as he came up along the side of his grandparents’ home, the news release said. When they ordered him to show his hands, he fled to the backyard, officials said. 

“Officers pursued the suspect and located him in the backyard of the residence,” the news release said. “The suspect turned and advanced towards the officers while holding an object which was extended in front of him.”

Believing the object was a gun, the officers opened fire, the news release said. Clark was struck multiple times, though the exact number of gunshot wounds was not immediately known.

A follow-up news release issued later Monday stated that no weapon was found near Clark’s body.

“After an exhaustive search, scene investigators did not locate any firearms,” the news release stated. “The only item found near the suspect was a cellphone.”

Homicide investigators and crime scene technicians said they found three vehicles with damage they believe Clark caused, as well as the shattered sliding glass door that the helicopter crew said they witnessed him break, the news release said

The only items investigators found that could have been the toolbar described by the helicopter crew included a cinder block and a piece of aluminum that may have come from a gutter. Both were found near the broken sliding glass door, the Bee reported

Both officers involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave, the newspaper said. One of the officers has eight years of law enforcement experience, half of it with the Sacramento department. 

The other officer has six years total experience, two of those in Sacramento. 

Sacramento city policy requires any body-camera footage of an officer-involved shooting to be made public within 30 days, the Bee reported

Hahn said he plans to release the officers’ body camera footage, as well as footage from a camera aboard the helicopter, after it has been shared with Clark’s family, Fox40 reported. He anticipated having the footage released by week’s end. 

The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office, the city attorney’s office and the city’s Office of Public Safety Accountability are investigating the shooting, as is the department’s homicide and internal affairs units. 

The Bee reported that Clark was at least the 17th person to die in confrontations with law enforcement in Sacramento County in the past two years. Besides the young father, three others were unarmed. 

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