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Northeast Numbed By Whiteout

A third major snowstorm this season smacked the East Coast on Wednesday with shutdowns of highways, power failures, collapsed roofs and still more time off from work and school.

Heavy snow and whiteout conditions struck from Washington, where government buildings and most businesses were shuttered, to New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg canceled school, making it the third snow day in six years for 1.1 million schoolchildren.

Tommy Leath, owner of Tommy's Auto Repair in Princess Anne, Md., cleaned out tools and other contents of his business after his roof collapsed overnight.

"I've lost I-don't-know-how-much stuff," Leath said.

The weight of the snow also broke through roofs at West Seaford Elementary School in Seaford, Del.; the Townsend Fire Company in Townsend, Del.; and the Scerni Business Park near Newark, Del., the Delaware Emergency Management Agency said.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator W. Craig Fugate said the storm was taking an unusually high toll. "We're starting to get more and more structural collapses," he said.

President Obama will determine whether the states and the District of Columbia qualify for federal funding to help pay for storm damage, Fugate said.

Governors called out the National Guard. Wednesday's blizzard set records for total snowfall in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington and Wilmington, Del., the National Weather Service said.

Several things account for the historic snowfalls, said Jeff Masters of The Weather Underground, a forecasting firm. The jet stream, a high-altitude air current that usually tracks over New England this time of year, perched farther south, and "as storms develop, they track over the same line," he said. Also, 2009 was unusually warm, which "put more vapor in the atmosphere."

Another snowstorm might appear Monday and could dump 4 more inches on the region, he said.

Auto club AAA was getting twice as many calls as normal but was limiting service to emergencies, spokesman John Townsend said.

"Our most important focus today is to rescue the motorists," he said. "It's a lifesaving situation that we're in."

Pennsylvania officials closed a 9-mile stretch of eastbound Interstate 80 after a 24-vehicle pileup. One person died, said Marla Fannin, a state Transportation spokeswoman. By 8:30 p.m. ET, the state had closed the entire lengths of six major interstates, including the Schuylkill Expressway, and a major section of I-81 from the Maryland border to I-80.

The state lowered all highway speed limits to 45 mph and asked truckers to stay off the roads.

"Other than emergency responders, no one should be driving on Pennsylvania's highways," Gov. Ed Rendell said.

He called out the National Guard to transport emergency patients, state police, stranded motorists and people who lost power.

The U.S. Postal Service suspended deliveries and collections in Washington, Maryland and most of Virginia for all of Wednesday, and in Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, Delaware and parts of New York state after noon.

Pepco, the Washington region's largest power company, pulled its crews from the street for five hours.

"High winds and low visibility made it unsafe for repair crews to operate," the company said in a news release.

Crews had been working 16-hour shifts to restore power to 200,000 customers who lost service in last week's blizzard, Pepco said. By late afternoon, just under 5,000 homes and businesses were without power, it said.

New York City's Department of Homeless Services, which houses more than 37,000 people a night in shelters, said it had increased the number of teams sent out to persuade homeless people to go to a shelter, emergency room or police precinct.

"People could die on the streets today as a result of the weather conditions," Commissioner Robert Hess said. "If you have someone who is on the street in a sleeping bag or in a box, and that becomes covered with snow - or if you get the blizzard conditions" - they would be harder to spot.

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