The U.S. capital city of Washington, D.C. on Friday nervously braced for a potentially historic winter storm, two days after botched response by local authorities to a snowfall paralyzed the whole town.
The storm, with the potential of dumping up to 30 inches (76 cm) of snow in Washington and the adjacent city of Baltimore, had been predicted by U.S. meteorologists to be one of the worst winter storms in decades and would affect more than 85 million people in at least 20 states in its path.
If the storm leaves as much snow in Washington as predicted, it would break the record set in 1922 when a blizzard dumped 28 inches (71 cm) and killed 100 people at a theater.
Speaking at a press conference Friday morning, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said that the storm had "life-and-death implications, " warning that the storm would also generate guts up to 60 miles per hour.
"We need the city's full cooperation," said Bowser. "We want people to hunker down, shelter in place and stay off the roads."
With Washington, D.C. area in the bulls-eye of the storm, many residents across the region stayed at home from work ahead of the storm, while all federal government and city government offices were closed at noon on Friday.
Dan Stessel, Washington's Metro spokesman, said compared to the figure of Jan. 15, the volume of passenger transport on Friday was down 50 percent as of 9 a.m. local time.
In an unusual move, the local authorities had announced that it would shut down the city's Metro system from Friday night through Sunday.
"I think the municipal government is overreacting. But again, slow response to Wednesday night's light dusting of snow cast doubt on their (city government) ability to handle the situation, and I think it's better for them to overreact this time," said Daniel, a police officer at Reagan National Airport who declined to disclose his surname because he was not authorized to speak on the issue.
Washington city authorities were caught off guard on Wednesday by a rush hour one inch of snow that crippled traffic in the whole town for nine hours.
Even U.S. President Barack Obama's motorcade was affected by the light snowfall late Wednesday as he was returning from Joint base Andrews to the White House. Thanks to the slippery streets, a trip which normally takes about 25 minutes took an hour.
After the incident, Mayor Bowser apologized publicly, acknowledging that "the District failed to deploy the necessary resources in response to the snow."
It was not only the road system that the winter storm was threatening to cripple.
For the country's airline business, the storm, which has the potential to eclipse the "Snowmageddon" storm of 2010 that buried the capital city under 17.8 inches (45.2 cm) of snow, was certainly to be a nightmare.
"I was scheduled to leave (Washington) on Saturday at midday. The airline called me and informed me that the flight was canceled, " said Arden Williams, a traveller seeking to head for Trinidad and Tobago from Reagan National Airport.
"So they rescheduled (the flight) to this evening at 8:30 p.m.. But they called me again this morning and said it (the new flight) was also canceled."
According to FlightAware, a flight tracking service, airlines had canceled more than 6,600 flights within, into, or out of the country for Friday and Saturday as of 5 p.m. local time on Friday.
Another some 2,400 flights were also delayed on Friday as thousands of travellers, some of whom had already been forced to change their itineraries, trapped at major airports across the country. Enditem