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The biggest snowstorm since the Blizzard of 1978 dumped...

By JAN ZIEGLER

BOSTON -- The biggest snowstorm since the Blizzard of 1978 dumped up to 2 feet of snow on New England Sunday, closing the area's busiest airport, blacking out power for 60,000 and killing at least three people. The National Weather Service in Boston said the surprise blizzard was the worst early winter storm since Dec. 5-6, 1926, and the biggest since the February 1978 blizzard that paralyzed the Northeast with up to 40 inches of snow, killing at least 55 New Englanders and rendering hundreds homeless.

Forecasters had predicted only a couple of inches of snow and some rain Saturday night as the storm tracked out to sea -- but to the bafflement of all, it changed course.

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'What happened was it intensified very rapidly and took a track toward the coast,' a National Weather Service meteorologist said. 'Storms of this magnitude -- especially when there's little information offshore -- can really surprise you.'

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The storm concentrated its strength in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, dumping 24 inches of snow in the Newport, R.I., area and 24 inches in Foxboro, southwest of Boston.

One of the victims, John Churette, 13, of Dracut, Mass., died from injuries suffered in a sledding accident, police said. The youth was struck by a tree that fell on his sled.

Several inches of snow had fallen and a foot or more was expected in northern states, including Vermont -- where state police said slippery roads were responsible for the car crash that killed Howard E. Wilder Jr., 26, of Plainfield, N.H., whose car skidded on Interstate 91 in Weathersfield and hit a tree.

Amar Vereen, 40, of Middletown, Conn., was killed when he lost control of his car on a slick road in his hometown and it slammed into a bridge abutment. Fender benders and minor accidents were reported throughout the six-state region.

Ski resort operators -- especially those in western Maine, where snowfall has been light the past two years -- heralded the storm as a Godsend.

'It's a gold mine,' said Russ Perry of the Squaw Mountain ski area. 'We can see the green falling.'

Boston's Logan International Airport, one of the busiest in the nation, was closed and heavy-duty plows trying to clear runways churned through more than 12 inches of snow.

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More than 60,000 people were without power, including 45,000 residents of Aquidneck Island in Rhode Island, where Newport and Portsmouth are located. Gusty winds in Provincetown and Scituate, Mass., coastal New Hampshire and elsewhere stripped snow-laden limbs from trees and sent them ripping through power lines.

About 200 people were stranded on Nantucket Island, where they had traveled Saturday to take part in the annual Christmas shopping festival. High winds and heavy seas forced cancellation of the only ferry boat to the mainland.

Many Massachusetts communities, hard hit by the budget cutbacks of the Proposition 2 tax-cutting law, had a tougher time than usual dealing with the snow.

Boston Public Works Commissioner Joseph Casazza said some parts of the city would not be cleared before Monday because his department suffered 60 percent personnel and budget cuts.

'Anyone who tells you when we're going to be through with this one must be clairvoyant,' he said.

The snow began to move in heavy and light bands across the area Sunday evening and was expected to taper off overnight, 24 hours or more after it began.

'It's the largest storm we've had since the Great Blizzard of '78,' said National Weather Service forecaster Harry Turban. 'It also compares to the biggest storm so early in the season since 1926. That was 5th and 6th of December 1926.'

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