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Monster snowstorm ravages New England

Travel resuming as Patrick lifts ban; but outages still a plague

Pummeled by one of the worst winter storms in state history, much of Massachusetts spent Saturday digging out, waiting for power, and navigating a snow-shrouded landscape that proved both pristinely beautiful and savagely cruel.

Two people died and two were injured in Boston because of carbon-monoxide poisoning linked to the storm, which dumped up to 30 inches of snow on the state. Hundreds of coastal residents were evacuated from the North Shore to Cape Cod, and more than 400,000 people in Massachusetts awoke without power Saturday.

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Begrudgingly but steadily, conditions improved throughout the day as power slowly returned and traffic-free streets became cross-country ski tracks. Governor Deval Patrick lifted the statewide travel ban at 4 p.m., 24 hours after imposing the first such prohibition since the deadly Blizzard of ’78.

“We still have a little way to get through the rest of the storm,’’ Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said. “Please take care of one another.’’

Despite its shimmering veneer, the snow continued to cause significant problems. Public transportation remained at a standstill in Boston and its suburbs, and the MBTA said it is trying to restore service by Monday morning.

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Amtrak canceled train service to New York, and runways at Logan International Airport, which recorded hurricane-force winds of 76 miles per hour and 24.9 inches of snow, were not expected to reopen until at least 11 p.m. Saturday. The US Postal Service suspended mail delivery.

The snowfall, the fifth-largest to be measured in Boston, approached the city record of 27.6 inches set in 2003. The Central Massachusetts town of Spencer recorded 30.5 inches, apparently the highest in the state.

Elsewhere in New England, more than 38 inches of snow fell in Milford, Conn., and a gust of 82 miles per hour was recorded in nearby Westport. In Portland, Maine, 29.3 inches of snow fell, eclipsing the record set in 1979.

Carbon-monoxide exposure killed a boy in Roxbury and a man in Mattapan, both of whom were overcome Saturday while sitting in running cars with tailpipes blocked by snow, authorities said. The unidentified boy, believed to be 14, had been shoveling snow in the morning before he sat in a car to take a break, Fire Department officials said.

In late afternoon, an unidentified man in his 20s was found dead inside a car on Woolson Street in Mattapan.

Shortly afterward, a 7-year-old girl and her 4-year-old brother were taken to the hospital with carbon-monoxide poisoning after being found in a car on Porter Street in East Boston. The children are expected to survive, authorities said.

“People have not seen this much snow in a long time. They’re not focused on making sure they clear the snow from the exhaust pipe before putting anyone inside,” said Cheryl Fiandaca, the Boston police spokeswoman. “Carbon monoxide fills the car pretty quickly.”

Although the National Weather Service had yet to formally declare the storm a blizzard, it certainly felt that way to many people. About 50 people had to be rescued from cars stranded during the storm, mostly from highway ramps.

Along the storm-battered coast, many residents continued to suffer Saturday. In Salisbury, more than 40 people were evacuated from about a dozen homes because of flooding. A mandatory evacuation order had been issued for 1,000 people in the densely settled beachfront neighborhood.

“One tide went right through the surf side” of a home, said Salisbury Police Detective Steve Sforza. “They said the ocean was inside their house, and they were right.” Four adults and two cats were taken out.

On nearby Plum Island in Newbury, the building commissioner determined that six homes could not be occupied because of beach erosion.

In Quincy, which lost nearly all power, flooding forced dozens of people from their homes. Dozens more sought warmth, food, and a bed in emergency shelters set up at the two city high schools. By Saturday night, some of the power had flickered back to life.

Elsewhere along the South Shore, the National Guard helped rescue residents in Hull and assisted local officials in the hard-hit coastal communities of Marshfield, Scituate, and Weymouth.

In Scituate, a tidal surge breached a sea wall Saturday morning, sending water pouring onto streets and spurring frantic calls for help on Saturday morning. “I was just with the chief of police, and right now every other call is an evacuation,” said Anthony Vegnani, vice chairman of the Board of Selectmen.

About 30 people sought shelter inside Scituate High School on Saturday morning, and Vegnani said they were expecting many more.

In Winthrop, the Point Shirley neighborhood was nearly inaccessible by car at high tide Saturday morning. Powerful surf breached a sea wall, flooding nearby streets with swift torrents of water that inundated cars and basements.

Several longtime residents, shoveling walks or attempting to save their cars, said they had not seen such flooding since the Blizzard of ’78.

Joe McDermott leaned on his shovel and watched the waves crash over the sea wall. McDermott said he was grateful he had moved his 90-year-old mother out of the flood zone and into his own home two days before the storm, particularly because Point Shirley was bereft of power much of the night.

“I’m glad she didn’t have to wake up seeing her breath,” he said.

In addition to its help along the coast, the National Guard performed some unconventional storm duty, using a military field ambulance in the midst of the storm to respond to a 911 call in Worcester to assist in the delivery of a baby at 3 a.m. Saturday.

For all the damage caused by the storm, the snow provided a playful winter diversion for many.

The driving ban freed up plenty of walkable space in downtown Boston, enough for well-bundled pedestrians to stop in the middle of the street and take pictures with backdrops strikingly devoid of humans and cars.

Many people walked with snow shoes or used cross-country skis. A few snowboarders created their own slalom course, zigging through light posts on a hill at Boston Common.

Tiny ice crystals carried by strong gusts were a major nuisance, though, pelting the faces of people as they walked into the wind.

Although the traffic ban left some feeling fortunate they did not have to hike through knee-high snow on unplowed sidewalks, a few people faulted the governor’s no-driving decree.

“We pay tax to use the roads, and we live in a city where this is to be expected, so I don’t understand it,” said Sonia Petersen, 29, as she walked along Shawmut Avenue.

Others thought the ban would make the city’s streets navigable sooner.

“The snow removal has been much more efficient than I thought it would be. I wanted to go skiing on the streets, but they’ve gotten the snow off much faster,” said Charlie Mamrak, 50, a biotech worker who was heading into the Common.

The deluge of snow left some feeling downright bored at home.

“There’s nothing more to cook, there’s no more cookies to bake, so we’re going to take a walk and scope out the scene,” said Jennifer Shea, 26, who was walking near Berkeley Street in the Back Bay with her best friend, Nicole Maras, 26. “This is fun. Just wandering aimlessly.”

In South Boston, residents of side streets dug out cars nearly buried in snow. Others took the storm as a cue to have fun.

“I felt pretty guilty, because everyone is out shoveling their cars and here I am walking to the bar,” said Jan Thibault, 30, laughing outside the Lincoln Tavern on West Broadway. “My street isn’t even plowed at all yet, so what’s the point?”

In the Back Bay shopping district near Boylston and Newbury streets, residents flocked to the handful of grocery and convenience stores that remained open. With little room to push snow aside in the densely developed neighborhood, crews used heavy equipment to lift it into dump trucks, while police and transportation officials chased away cars that tried to park near the Prudential Center.

Nearby, outside the Ladder 17 firehouse on Columbus Avenue, firefighters placed a whimsical sign on a pile of snow that read, “FREE SNOW.”

The recovery was powered by more than 3,600 cleanup crews who continued to work on Saturday morning after a long night of battling the snow. They made the job easier for utility crews who slowly but steadily restored power throughout the day. By 9:30 p.m., the number of outages had dropped to 311,000, from more than 420,000.

The lack of MBTA service helped persuade the Boston Bruins to cancel their home game Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

State officials would not predict when power would be restored to all customers, including the hardest-hit areas of Southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod. National Grid said Saturday it expected all but customers in Norfolk and Plymouth counties to have power back within 24 hours. As of 4:30 p.m., the utility had roughly 131,800 customers without electricity.

Both National Grid and NStar had declared the snowstorm a “Level 5” event — their highest designation — meaning the worst outages could last for three days or more.

“I’d like it to happen now,” Patrick said of restoring all power. However, he added, ending the travel ban could affect the pace because traffic will make work more difficult for utility crews.

Overall, Patrick said, “we feel pretty good” about the storm response.

“It’s nature, so the forecast is always worrisome. Is it going to be as bad? Is it going to come when it’s forecast? And is it going to last as long?” Patrick said. “The forecasting here was pretty extraordinarily accurate and that helped. But it’s not over. I mean, the storm is over. The recovery is what people will be focused on.”

Kurt Schwartz, director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said the driving ban helped the state’s recovery from the storm.

“The overnight travel ban worked extremely well for us,” Schwartz said at a news conference. “We’re very happy . . . that we’re not dealing with clogged arteries, clogged secondary roads, and we can focus where we need to focus.”

In Boston, Menino echoed Patrick’s assessment of the storm response. “I am happy to report the city so far has weathered this storm well,” he said. “No major power outages. No severe flooding.’’

Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at macquarrie@globe.com. Brian Ballou, Stephanie Ebbert, Martin Finucane, Akilah Johnson, Kay Lazar, Kathy McCabe, Sean Murphy, Martine Powers, and Michael Rezendes of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Dan Adams contributed to this report.
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