NEW YORK - As millions of residents in the Northeast braced for a powerful blizzard set to sweep across the region, states announced travel bans and the suspension or reduction of public transit, thousands of flights were grounded, and officials urged people to leave work early before heavy snow and high winds would make travel treacherous.
"This will most likely be one of the largest blizzards in the history of New York City," Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday afternoon. He announced schools would be closed Tuesday and ordered all drivers off the roads by 11 p.m. Monday.
Cities big and small along the Philadelphia-to-Boston corridor of more than 35 million people began shutting down and bundling up Tuesday against a powerful and potentially historic storm that could unload 1 to 3 feet of snow.
Officials urged residents to stay safe and prepare early as the region's transportation systems prepared to grind to a halt. Four states -- New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts -- have declared a state of emergency, hours before the worst of the storm hit large metropolitan areas.
More than 5,500 flights were canceled, schools and businesses planned to close early, and cities mobilized snowplows and salt spreaders, getting ready for a dangerously windy blast that could instantly make up for what has been a largely snow-free winter in the urban Northeast.
Snow was already falling in several cities, including Philadelphia and New York, with Boston up next in the afternoon. Forecasters said the brunt of the storm would hit Monday evening and into Tuesday.
Boston is expected to get 2 to 3 feet, New York 1.5 to 2 feet, and Philadelphia a foot or so. The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for a 250-mile swath of the region, meaning heavy, blowing snow and potential whiteout conditions.
In Hartford, Connecticut, Frank Kurzatkowski filled several five-gallon buckets of water at his home in case the power went out and his well pump failed.
"I've got gas cans filled for my snowblowers," he said. "I have four-wheel-drive."
Supermarkets and hardware stores did a brisk trade as light snow fell in New Jersey.
Nicole Coelho, 29, a nanny from Lyndhurst, New Jersey, was preparing to pick up her charges early from school and stocking up on macaroni and cheese, frozen pizzas and milk at a supermarket. She also was ready in case of a power outage.
"I'm going to make sure to charge up my cellphone, and I have a good book I haven't gotten around to reading yet," she said.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy ordered a travel ban on Connecticut highways starting at 9 p.m., while officials in other states asked residents to avoid any unnecessary travel. About half of all flights out of New York's LaGuardia Airport were called off Monday, and about 60 percent of flights heading into the airport were scratched.
Boston's Logan Airport said there would be no flights after 7 p.m. Monday, and the shutdown could last until late Wednesday.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker warned residents to prepare for roads that are "very hard, if not impossible, to navigate," power outages and possibly a lack of public transportation. Wind gusts of 75 mph or more were possible for coastal areas of Massachusetts, and up to 50 mph farther inland, forecasters said.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he had declared a state of emergency, and that government offices would be closed on Tuesday, with early closures on Monday.
"This is a different kind of storm than what we've had before," Christie said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged commuters to stay home on Monday and warned that mass transit and roads could be closed before the evening rush hour, even major highways such as the New York Thruway and the Long Island Expressway. Cuomo said the New York City subway system is going to start experiencing limited service around 8 p.m., and it may shut down as the storm worsens.
"The expression is, they want to put the trains away," Cuomo said.
New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio said the streets of the city will become off-limits to all non-emergency vehicles beginning around 11 p.m. ET. He urged New Yorkers to stay home and out of the way. A total of 2,400 sanitation workers will be deployed around the city to continuously clear its 6,000 miles of roadways, DeBlasio said.
Broadway theaters, however, are keeping their doors open - at least for now - as a blizzard bears down on Times Square. The Broadway League says all shows are scheduled to go on Monday, a traditionally quiet night with only a few shows available. No firm decision about Tuesday has been made.
The United Nations announced it was closing it's Manhattan headquarters on Monday at 2:30 p.m. ET, and all of Tuesday.
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