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Winter storm hits Northeast after leaving the Plains and Midwest in the dark

    COLUMBIA, Conn. — A deadly winter storm brought snow and sleet to the Northeast on Thursday, while crews in the Plains and Midwest worked to restore power to hundreds of thousands of people left in the dark in its ice-coated wake.
    Some parts of the Northeast could receive up to a foot of snow, forecasters said. Schools in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut announced closures, in some cases before flakes even began to fall.
    Dozens of traffic accidents were reported on Connecticut roads.
    ‘‘We’re having, I won’t say a crisis, but we have an abundance of crashes literally all across the state on main and secondary roads,’’ said Lt. J. Paul Vance. ‘‘It really is pretty dangerous, so we would strongly advise people to stay off the roads.’’
    Some businesses sent their workers home early, leading to a steady stream of customers at Sebby Randazzo’s liquor store in Columbia.
    ‘‘Before the snow starts, and for the first hour or so, people want to load up for their snow parties,’’ Randazzo said. ‘‘They want to gather around the fire with a glass or wine, or have a beer with their buddies, or maybe after they shovel snow for a while they come in and have a beverage.’’
    The storm was blamed for 35 deaths, mostly in traffic accidents, as it moved through the middle of the country. In Oklahoma, at least 315,000 homes and businesses still were without power Thursday, officials said. In Missouri, about 35,000 customers remained in the dark, said Al Butkus, spokesman for utility Aquila Inc.
    Northeast airports were bracing for travel problems. At New York’s airports, some airlines were allowing passengers to reschedule their flights free of charge. At Connecticut’s largest airport, near Hartford, a dozen flights had been canceled as of 9 a.m., said John Wallace, an airport spokesman.
    At Boston’s Logan International Airport, air traffic was normal Thursday morning, but the airport expected airlines to cancel up to half of the afternoon’s scheduled flights because of snow.
    ‘‘But unless it snows 2 inches an hour, or we have whiteout conditions, the airport should stay open — maybe with just one runway operating, but open,’’ airport spokesman Phil Orlandella said.
    In Yorktown, N.Y., Mitchell Hardware sold more than 25 shovels Wednesday — nearly twice as many as it usually sells in a week, said assistant manager Mike Malone.
    Sunshine and milder temperatures on Thursday should help cleanup efforts in much of the Plains, but another winter storm approaching from the west could dump heavy snow on parts of Oklahoma on Friday.
    More than two dozen shelters were set up at churches and community centers across the Oklahoma for people needing a warm place to stay. Exhibit halls at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City were turned into a shelter Wednesday capable of housing more than 700 people.
    Wayne Wooldridge lasted only one cold, dark night in the frigid house he volunteered to watch for his son, who is deployed overseas for the U.S. Air Force.
    ‘‘I can get bundled up pretty warm in the house, but there was no light at night,’’ Wooldridge, 68, said Wednesday at a shelter. ‘‘We get spoiled.’’
    Industrial-size generators, bottled water, plastic sheeting to cover 2,000 damaged roofs, and blankets arrived Wednesday via the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was authorized by President Bush’s emergency disaster declaration to help all 77 Oklahoma counties clean up.
    At the John 3:16 Mission in Tulsa, a lottery is held each day to determine who gets a bed, and the facility is scrambling every bed, mattress and bench it has to accommodate people, said The Rev. Steve Whitaker, executive director at the mission.
    ‘‘It’s gut-wrenching to turn those guys away,’’ he said.
    ———
    Associated Press writers Ula Ilnytzky in New York, Rochelle Hines in Oklahoma City, Nafeesa Syeed in Des Moines, Iowa, and Sofia Mannos in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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