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SYSTEM PUMMELS NORTHEAST WITH SNOW, ICE

A powerful winter storm spread more than a half-foot of snow across parts of the Northeast on Wednesday, closing hundreds of schools and switching off the lights for thousands of homes and businesses.

The Maine Legislature called off its session for the day, and federal agencies opened two hours late in Washington.

The National Weather Service reported 10 inches of snow in Maine at Auburn and Lisbon Falls; 8.5 inches at Fitchburg, Mass.; and up to 6 inches in eastern New York state, where ice was up to a half-inch thick. Winter storm warnings were in effect for much of New England and northern New York state, along with flood warnings in wide areas as heavy rain combined with melting snow.

The storm system had been blamed for at least 15 deaths since Monday: one in Louisiana, one in New Jersey, three in Kentucky, two in Missouri on Monday, six in West Virginia, one in New York state and one in Pennsylvania.

The storm pummeled much of the Ohio Valley with ice and snow Tuesday as it headed toward New England. Precipitation in New England started as snow, changed to sleet and freezing rain, and then was expected to change completely to rain. Farther south, rain soaked the Eastern Seaboard from North Carolina to the New York metropolitan area.

"I guess we wouldn't be here (the Northeast) if it bothered us," Peter Rossi said as he had breakfast in Albany, N.Y. "The big deal with the weather like this is the other guy you have to watch out for on the roads."

The storm was adding to this winter's already impressive snowfall totals in Maine. Through Tuesday, Portland had received 71.5 inches, far above the 43.6 inch average for the date, the weather service said. In far northern Maine, more than 125 inches of snow has fallen this season at Caribou.

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