HARTFORD, Conn. — A winter storm that shut down much of the South churned up the coast Wednesday, dumping wet, heavy snow across the Northeast and saving its most brutal punch for New England, where hundreds of cars spun out and schools and businesses shut down.
Armies of plows and salt spreaders hit streets across the region to stem chaos during Wednesday morning's commute. In Connecticut, where nearly 2 feet of snow had fallen and it as still coming down, state police responded to about 500 spinouts, fender-benders and stranded vehicles. Four minor injuries were reported.
"Troopers are going from one stranded vehicle to another," said Lt. J. Paul Vance, a department spokesman.
In New York, where officials took heavy criticism for slow response to a Dec. 26 blizzard, the morning commute got off to a promising start as plows cleared streets blocked for days by the last storm. Nearly 9 inches fell in Central Park, well short of the 20 inches last month's storm dumped on the city.
New England, though, appeared to be caught off guard by the ferocity of the storm. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, leading the state through what threatened to be his first disaster, ordered a double shift of state troopers onto highways.
Heavy snow and gusting winds closed hundreds of schools and businesses from Maine and New Hampshire southward.
"You can't see across the street. The wind and snow is blowing about 40 miles an hour sideways," said Artie Perrin, general manager at Kelly's Roast Beef in Revere, north of Boston.
Ridgefield, Conn., had 22 inches of snow by 8 a.m., and Danbury had 18 inches. In Bridgeport, the state's largest city, a snow emergency was declared and only city and education board employees essential to storm operations were expected at work. In Maine, an inch of snow an hour was meant snow plows had a hard time keeping up.
Every flight in and out of Boston's Logan Airport was delayed. New York's LaGuardia Airport canceled 675 flights, Kennedy Airport 300 and Newark Liberty 440. Philadelphia's airport reported about 20 dozen canceled outbound flights and 100 canceled arrivals, but spokeswoman Victoria Lupica expected things to be back in full swing by noon.
Officials cautioned motorists to stay off the road from the Carolinas to Maine. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick noted reports of spinouts and disoriented motorists heading the wrong way on highways.
In New Jersey, relatively few problems were reported Wednesday and plows were out in force. Locals were keeping a close eye on Gov. Chris Christie, who left for a Disney World family vacation in Orlando, Fla., just before the Christmas blizzard struck the Northeast even though his lieutenant governor also was out of state.
Christie, who was heavily criticized for the trip, has said he and the lieutenant governor wouldn't be out of state at the same time again and even joked last week about "shoveling myself" to dig people out of snow if necessary.
The storm was the third to hit New York in less than three weeks, after the crippling Dec. 26 blizzard and a 2-inch dusting last week.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said crews would work even harder after criticism of how the city handled the blizzard, when hundreds of streets went unplowed, subway riders were stranded and medical calls unanswered because ambulances were unable to navigate snowy streets.
In Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood, an area paralyzed by last month's storm, all major and side streets were plowed by Wednesday morning. A few cars skidded on the slush.
"It's going to be a difficult, difficult rush hour," Bloomberg had said Tuesday. "The storm is predicted to be at its heaviest just a few hours before rush hour, and there's no way that our city's plows can get to all 6,000 streets in one or two hours."
The city stood ready Wednesday with more than 300 salt spreaders, 1,700 plows, and 200 front-end loaders, backhoes and Bobcats. Sanitation workers were on 12-hour shifts.
Seth Andrews, a spokesman for the city's Office of Emergency Management, said that as of around 3:30 a.m. no serious problems had been reported although a few vehicles had gotten stuck. He said crews were out in full force to handle any emergencies.
Snow and ice had already shut down much of the South for two days before the storm joined forces with another coming in from the Midwest and swept northward.
Road crews lacked winter equipment, salt and sand to clear the roads, and millions of people just stayed home. Mail delivery was restricted, and many schools and other institutions closed. The storm was blamed for 11 deaths and many more injuries.
Some schools remained closed Wednesday in western North Carolina, as well as schools in Charlotte, the state's largest city. Workers reported progress clearing highways but warned many secondary roads remained dangerous because of ice. A winter weather advisory was in effect until noon in northwestern South Carolina as up to 9 inches of melted snow refroze on the roads.
Despite the inconvenience, Southerners confronted the aftermath with patience and a measure of wonder.
Lynn Marentette, a school psychologist who lives south of Charlotte, N.C., stayed home after classes were canceled. She spent Tuesday catching up with friends on Facebook and watching children sled down a nearby hill — and ignored the stack of paperwork on her desk.
"It is a beautiful, beautiful day out there," she said. "I have some paperwork and some things I've really put off doing, but how often do you have a chance to enjoy the snow?"
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Frank Eltman in Carle Place, N.Y.; Kiley Armstrong; Sara Kugler Frazier, Chris Hawley, Karen Matthews and Ula Ilnytzky in New York; Beth DeFalco in Trenton, N.J.; Dorie Turner, Don Schanche and Errin Haines in Atlanta; Bill Poovey in Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Gary D. Robertson in Raleigh, N.C.