By Mariano Castillo and Ed Payne
ATLANTA (CNN) — The snow is coming down, and coming down hard.
New Yorkers on Thursday found only 2 inches of snow on a 7 a.m. stroll through Central Park, but two hours later, it was 5 inches.
The storm arrived faster than forecasters predicted, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday, with more snow accumulating than expected.
At least 11 deaths have been blamed on the weather, including a 36-year-old pregnant woman struck and killed by a snowplow in a Brooklyn shopping center Thursday, police said.
New York wasn’t alone Thursday as snow also walloped Washington, Philadelphia and Boston. A band of heavy snowfall also hit parts of Connecticut, with rates of 3 to 6 inches per hour.
The National Weather Service reported near-blizzard conditions over northern parts of New York City, northeast New Jersey, the lower Hudson Valley and coastal Connecticut.
New York deployed 475 salt spreaders and 1,900 snowplows, de Blasio said.
“I want to tell you the effort it takes to keep our streets clear and to deal with all of the challenges that come up as a result of these storms is Herculean,” he told reporters.
Warmer temperatures over the weekend could mean the snow may turn into an unwelcome mix of slush.
In the nation’s capital, agencies shuttered their doors as the area got up to 11 inches of snow. All federal offices in Washington were ordered closed, and thousands of employees were told to stay home, according to the Office of Personnel Management.
All runways at Washington’s Reagan National and Dulles International airports were closed Thursday.
The snowfall in Philadelphia was expected to reach 11 inches, while New Yorkers were experiencing what probably will be 15 inches of snow.
Boston was in the bull’s-eye, too, with up to 8 inches expected there by the end of Thursday. Wind gusts there will top 40 mph.
Earlier, the storm kept Atlantans inside their homes for two days and brought gridlock to major cities in North Carolina.
Southern states sprang into cleanup mode as power outages mounted and hundreds of thousands of customers shivered through a cold, dark night.
The storm has pulled the plug on about 700,000 customers, across 14 states and the District of Columbia. The vast majority of them are in Georgia and the Carolinas.
And the weather will batter air travel for a second day.
Nationwide, more than 6,000 flights were canceled for Thursday. The total topped 3,400 Wednesday.
Rail travel isn’t immune. Amtrak has suspended some service in the Northeast, South and Mid-Atlantic regions again for Thursday.
Atlanta appeared to have learned its lesson from a paralyzing snowstorm two weeks ago, but drivers in the Carolinas got their own taste of nightmare commutes Wednesday as the storm system raced up the East Coast. The storm appeared to take people by surprise despite days of warnings.
“It’s really, really bad, and it got so bad so quickly that people just weren’t ready. Even though we were warned, it just happened more quickly than you would think possible,” said Christina Martinson, who was stuck in snowbound traffic with her husband and son for hours in Durham, North Carolina.
“We saw so many people … cars piled up and left on the side of the road, and wrecks.”
Durham Mayor William Bell said his city had expected the snow, but it came down much more quickly than anyone imagined.
Power outages were few, he told CNN’s “New Day,” but highways were gridlocked and motorists stranded.
“Just a bad day,” Bell said.
Along Glenwood Avenue in Raleigh, dozens of vehicles were sprawled along the roadway when suddenly a car burst into flames.
“This car started spinning out and it started to smoke under the hood and it lit up very quickly,” Lindsay Webb said. “And within minutes that whole car was in flames.”
The North Carolina Department of Transportation urged people not to abandon their vehicles. Department spokesman Mike Charbonneau said the National Guard was on the streets, but no rescues were carried out overnight.
He said that to his knowledge, no drivers spent the night in their cars on the highway.
Abandoned cars were being towed so salt trucks and plows could continue to work, he said.
In addition to the weather-related death in New York, two people were killed in Georgia, and two died in North Carolina.
In Texas, three people died when an ambulance driver lost control on an icy patch of road outside of Carlsbad, the state Department of Public Safety said. A patient, a paramedic and another passenger were pronounced dead at the scene.
In Mississippi, authorities blamed the storm for two traffic deaths.
CNN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell, Sean Morris, Erin McPike, Sherri Pugh, Meridith Edwards, Chelsea J. Carter, Chandler Friedman and Gary Tuchman contributed to this report.
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