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Northeast Braces For First Major Blizzard Of Season

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

A massive blizzard is hitting the Northeast with as much as three feet of snow expected in some areas, along with hurricane force winds. Four states are imposing travel bans tonight. Meanwhile, airlines have canceled or delayed thousands of flights. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports now on how the region is preparing.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: The message is clear from governors along the Northeast.

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GOVERNOR CHARLIE BAKER: I can't stress this part enough - please stay off the roads.

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GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: You should stay home if you can. You should only go out in the case of an absolute emergency or necessity.

WANG: That was Governors Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Chris Christie of New Jersey. Their counterpart in New York, Andrew Cuomo, explained why this snowstorm may not be your average blizzard.

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GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO: The blizzard brings with it very high winds, gusts up to 55 miles per hour. And that's what makes the situation dangerous and difficult. It's the snow combined with the wind.

WANG: In fact, hurricane-force winds are expected along parts of the eastern shoreline with some predicted to go as high as 75 miles per hour. Blizzard conditions also threaten the shoreline with coastal flooding as high as four feet, with the worst expected in Massachusetts. Officials warn that conditions may ramp up quickly overnight with total snow accumulations expected to reach between two to three feet.

Thousands of snow plows and salt trucks have been at the ready in cities like Boston and New York, where sanitation workers are gearing up to clean up about 6,000 miles of city streets. In Manhattan's East Village neighborhood, Mercedes Santana did her part this morning outside her office building.

MERCEDES SANTANA: Well, I'm actually putting a little bit of salt down.

WANG: Santana said she's prepared, but not too concerned.

SANTANA: You know, we've been disappointed before when we've heard that there were going to be blizzards and major snowstorms, so just out here doing the normal maintenance and preventive measures to avoid any accidents.

WANG: There was a more anxious tone among commuters at the New York's Grand Central Terminal, where some showed up early to take trains out of the city after cutting short their workdays.

DAN SCHAKED: I'm definitely worried that it's going to be a lot of snow, and I won't be able to get home.

WANG: Dan Schaked, an attorney from Scarsdale, New York, decided to make his 30-minute commute home before noon.

SCHAKED: It's starting to pile up out there, and travel's going to be difficult. Getting off the train, getting home from the train's going to be difficult. So I want to avoid the risk and get home early.

WANG: Once Jasmine Bryant of Poughkeepsie, New York, arrives home, she says she's already prepared to weather the storm.

JASMINE BRYANT: I have food, I have shelter, so I'm good.

WANG: The storm is also grounding businesspeople and tourists who are stuck and likely won't be able to fly home tomorrow or the day after from some of the region's airports. Gina Flores of Pittsburg, California, says her airline asked her to rebook a later flight out of New York for her and her family. Flores says she's worried.

GINA FLORES: They sent me, like, a little alert letting me know that I should change my flight just in case and to keep on the lookout that it might not be good enough - might have to do it on Friday instead.

WANG: Friday, wow...

FLORES: Yeah, my boss is going to kill me (laughter) so...

WANG: Flores says there is one bright side to staying longer in New York for her young son and daughter.

FLORES: We used to live here a long time ago, so they get to see where mommy and daddy met, so it's very exciting.

WANG: Exciting and cold. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.