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People rush stores for salt, shovels before storm hits

Shovels, snowblowers and salt were flying off store shelves Friday as people along the East Coast prepared for a powerful convergence of storms that could bring the heaviest snowfall in five years to some areas.

A storm taking shape off North Carolina was expected to make its way up the East Coast, passing Philadelphia by this afternoon and reaching Boston by evening. At the same time, a storm in the Midwest was working its way east over the Appalachians, and the two were expected to merge.

Snow of a foot or more was possible in some areas, and high wind could bring blizzard conditions.

Road maintenance crews around the region got plows ready, outfitted trucks with snow gear, piled up salt and sand and put workers on standby.

Airlines were expecting flight cancellations throughout the weekend. TWA began canceling some domestic flights to and from the East Coast for Friday evening and today in anticipation of the storm.

Continental Airlines canceled more than 200 flights at New York City's three area airports. Several airlines serving Baltimore-Washington International Airport canceled flights, and airport crews were bracing for delays and cancellations today.

"It's going to be ugly," Delta Air Lines' Russ Williams said. "We're going to be taking down a significant portion of our schedule throughout the Northeast."

Shore True Value Hardware in Somers Point, N.J., sold all 300 shovels that had been delivered the day before. Another delivery was expected, and Austin Gibbons, 79, said he would be back. In the meantime, he was headed to a liquor store: "I need a bottle of J&B. That's going to hold me over."

Customers at Pennington Market in Pennington, N.J., bought milk, bread and soup _ along with snacks and deli trays _ to prepare for the storm and the New Year's weekend.

And shoppers at Pelican Ski & Snowboard Shops in Morris Plains, N.J., grabbed sleds along with snow boots and longjohns.

Pelican Ski store owner Ken Spilatro said sales have doubled in the past few days, a welcome development after a stretch of warm winters. "We've been waiting for this for a couple of years," he said.

The Morton Salt company in Providence, R.I., had 15 extra trucks and a dozen extra crew members helping customers dig into a 60-foot salt pile to keep public works departments supplied.

More than 400 plows were ready to clear Pennsylvania's 3,600 miles of state highways.

New York City had about 200,000 pounds of salt and thousands of cleanup workers on call. Eight to 16 inches of snow were forecast, which would be the city's heaviest snowfall since the blizzard of Jan. 7-8, 1996, which dumped more than 20 inches of snow. The city got only 13 inches all of last year.

The cold hampered firefighters at a blazing paper-recycling plant in Jersey City, N.J. Six firefighters were hurt, most of them when they slipped on ice that formed when water from their hoses froze.

The Philadelphia Eagles borrowed tarps and heaters from Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh to protect the field at Veterans Stadium for Sunday's NFL playoff game against Tampa Bay.