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Mike Groll, Associated Press
Jim Schumacher shovels snow near his vehicle in Albany, N.Y., Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011. Armies of plows and salt spreaders hit the streets up and down the East Coast to stem chaos during Wednesday morning's commute as a storm that shut down much of the South churned northward and dumped several inches of wet, heavy snow on areas already weary of winter.

HARTFORD, Conn. — A powerful winter storm buried the Northeast in nearly 2 feet of wet, blowing snow Wednesday, smothering highways, halting trains, and causing thousands of homes and business to go cold and dark.

The storm, which iced over much of the South before sweeping up the East Coast, wreaked havoc on the morning commute across southern New England. Hundreds of flights were canceled, and government officials pleaded for drivers to stay off the roads.

In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency and mobilized the National Guard. He said the storm had turned out "totally different" than expected, bringing more snow and a wetter kind of snow and leaving more than 100,000 people without power or heat by noon.

Schools, businesses and government offices closed across the region, but some people had no choice but to report for work despite the elements.

Maria Rivera, 60, slept overnight in a food court booth at a travel plaza on the Massachusetts Turnpike in Natick. She said the person providing her ride home to Worcester could not make it in the storm, and she had to be back for her Wednesday shift.

"I have to work," she said. "I have to pay my bills."

In New York, where city leaders took heavy criticism for their slow response to a Dec. 26 blizzard, officials rolled out a massive response that quickly cleared the streets. They also received some help from nature, with only 9 inches of snow falling in Central Park — well short of 20 inches that last month's storm dumped on the city.

Some of the highest snow totals were reported in Connecticut, where the roof of an apartment building in Norwich partially collapsed under the weight of the snow, forcing 10 people from their homes. State troopers, working double shifts on orders of the governor, responded to about 900 spinouts, fender-benders and stranded vehicles.

By early afternoon, New Fairfield had 28 inches of snow, and Danbury had 24 inches.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the state might qualify for federal money to pay for the cleanup.

"We're still in the position where we are simply trying to make sure that people are safe and that we can get commerce up and running as rapidly as possible," Malloy said.

The storm joined forces with another system coming in from the Midwest and announced its arrival in New England with claps of thunder.

Motorists from the Carolinas to Maine were cautioned to stay off the roads, but that was not an option for Josh Clukey, 24, of Eastford, Conn. He ventured out with his pregnant wife when her water broke after midnight. The drive to a hospital in Willimantic that would normally take 25 minutes lasted a harrowing hour.

"It was a little scary. It was dark, and the snow was blowing all over the place. I drove really slow," said Clukey, whose son, Ryland James, was born at 8:42 a.m. "There was maybe only about 6 inches on the roads at the time, but the plows hadn't come out yet."

More than 1,700 flights were canceled at the New York region's three airports, which were trying to resume normal operations Wednesday.

Commuter rail service was delayed or suspended across the region, and Amtrak suspended service between New York City and Boston because of damage to the overhead power system south of Boston.

In New York, Eric Winbush learned after he got to Penn Station that his Amtrak train to Boston had been canceled.

"I'm going to Boston because my father is on his deathbed," said Winbush, whose 90-year-old father was in a hospice. "My brothers and sisters are waiting on me."

Scattered power outages were reported in Connecticut and Rhode Island in addition to the blackouts in Massachusetts.

In Bridgewater, Mass., a suburb about 30 miles south of Boston that was without power, eight people had checked into an emergency shelter.

Primile Chiocha, 89, wore a sweatshirt with a drawing of an ice-skating penguin holding a "Let it snow!" sign while she ate a turkey sandwich and chatted with other ladies at the shelter.

"I came mostly because I was cold and I wanted a cup of coffee," she said. "I hope I'm not here too long. I like to be home. There's nothing like home."

Plows were out in force in New Jersey and in New York, which was getting hit by snow for the third time in less than three weeks, after the Christmas weekend blizzard and a 2-inch dusting last week.

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 got stranded and medical calls were unanswered.

As the storm swept north, the National Weather Service reported that there was snow on the ground in every state except Florida. That included Hawaii, which had 7 inches on the top of the Mauna Kea mountain.

"I think it has happened in the past, but it's not very often that it happens," said James Peronto of the weather service.

The weather has been blamed for at least 14 deaths and many more injuries since Sunday.

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In Ohio, an athletic trainer was killed when a bus carrying members of a wrestling team from the University of Mount Union collided with a snowplow.

In the South, 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 canceled activities.

Some schools remained closed Wednesday in western North Carolina as well as in Charlotte, the state's largest city. Workers reported progress clearing highways, but many secondary roads remained dangerous because of ice.

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Bob Salsberg in Natick, Mass.; Denise Lavoie in Weymouth, Mass., John Christoffersen in Milford, Conn., 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.