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Early snow pelts US east coast

An unusually early and powerful snowstorm struck the US East Coast, weighing down or toppling leafy trees and utility lines to knock out power to 2.3 million customers.

Communities inland were hit hardest, with eastern Pennsylvania serving as the bull's-eye for the storm, said National Weather Service spokesman Chris Vaccaro.

Some places had more than 6ins of snow, and towns near the Maryland-Pennsylvania border saw 10ins fall. And New York City's Central Park set a record for both the date and the month of October with 1.3ins of snow by mid-afternoon and more falling.

More than 665,000 people were without power in New Jersey, including the governor, Chris Christie, who declared a state of emergency. Two hospitals that lost power were operating on generators.

Utilities in Connecticut reported more than 700,000 without power, while utilities in Pennsylvania said more than 560,000 are without power.

In Massachusetts, more than 485,000 were without electricity and. In New York, more than 260,000 have lost power. Western Maryland has more than 26,000 power cuts.

Throughout the region, officials had warned that the early storm would bring sticky snow on the heels of the week's warmer weather and could create dangerous conditions.

The storm disrupted travel along the Eastern Seaboard. Several airports had hours-long delays yesterday, including Philadelphia's and two that serve New York City, Newark Liberty and Kennedy. The smaller airport in Teterboro, New Jersey, was briefly closed.

Amtrak suspended service passenger train service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and commuter trains in Connecticut and New York were delayed or suspended because of downed trees and signal problems.

Residents were urged to avoid travel altogether. Speed limits were reduced on bridges between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. A few roads closed because of accidents and downed trees and power lines, and more were expected, said Sean Brown, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

In eastern Pennsylvania, snow caused widespread problems. It toppled trees and a few power lines and led to minor traffic accidents, according to dispatchers. Allentown, expected to get 4-8ins, is likely to break the city's October record of 2.2ins set on October 31 1925.

Philadelphia was seeing mostly rain, but what snow fell coated roofs in white. The city was expected to get 1-3ins, its first measurable October snow since 1979, with a bit more in some suburbs, meteorologist Mitchell Gaines said.

The last major widespread snowstorm to hit Pennsylvania this early was in 1972, said John LaCorte, a National Weather Service meteorologist in State College.

Southern New Jersey was soaked with heavy rains and winds that ranged from 20-35mph, while northern communities awaited the arrival of 5-10ins of snow.

Parts of New York saw a mix of snow, rain and slush that made for sheer misery at the Occupy Wall Street encampment in New York City, where drenched protesters sheltered in tents and under tarpaulins as the plaza filled with rainwater and melted snow.

Technically, tents are banned in the park, but protesters say authorities have been looking the other way, even despite a crackdown on generators that were keeping them warm.

"I want to thank the New York Police Department," said 32-year-old protester Sam McBee, decked out in a yellow slicker and rain trousers.

"We're not supposed to have tents. We're not supposed to have sleeping bags. You go to Atlanta, they don't have it. You go to Oakland, you don't have it. And we got it."

October snowfall is rare in New York, there had been just three October days with measurable snowfall in Central Park since record-keeping began 135 years ago, according to the National Weather Service. The fourth came yesterday.

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