'Bomb cyclone' leaves eastern US snowed-in

A massive winter storm has roared into the US east coast, threatening to dump up to half a metre of snow from the Carolinas to Maine and unleashing hurricane-force winds and flooding that closed schools and offices and halted transportation systems.

Forecasters expected the storm, which has been dubbed a 'bomb cyclone', to be followed immediately by a blast of face-stinging cold air that could break records in more than two dozen cities.

Blizzard warnings and states of emergency were in wide effect, and wind gusts hit more than 113km/h in some places. Eastern Massachusetts and most of Rhode Island braced for as much as 7.5cm of snow per hour.

Four people were killed in North and South Carolina after their vehicles ran off snow-covered roads, authorities said. Another fatality was reported near Philadelphia when a car could not stop at the bottom of a steep, snow-covered hill and slammed into a commuter train. A passenger in the vehicle was killed. No one on the train was hurt.

In New Jersey, Orlando Igmat's car got stuck in a snowbank along the Garden State Parkway in Tinton Falls as he drove to work at Verizon. He waited a half hour for a tow truck to pull him out.

"I didn't expect it (the storm) was going to be a heavy one. That's why I went to work today. I'm going to stay in a hotel tonight," he said.

More than 100,000 homes and businesses lost power at some point, depriving many people of heat. Connecticut opened more than 100 warming centres in 34 towns. More than half of the outages - mostly in the South - were restored by Thursday afternoon (local time).

The high winds caused coastal flooding from Massachusetts to Maine, overwhelming fishing piers, streets and restaurants. The rising waters also stranded people in homes and cars.

National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Peterson said record low temperatures were predicted for 28 major cities across New England, eastern New York and the mid-Atlantic states by dawn Sunday.

Boston expected a low around minus 25C overnight Saturday into Sunday. Portland, Maine, and Burlington, Vermont, could see minus 28C, the weather service said.

State and local officials urged people to stay home so crews could clear away the snow. There were concerns in Boston and elsewhere that if roads were not properly cleared, the snow could freeze into cement-like ice after the cold blast arrives.

It was so cold in South Florida that iguanas fell from their perches in trees in suburban Miami. The reptiles became immobile when temperatures dipped below 5 degrees Celsius.

Reuters