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New York, meteorologists defend storm shutdown

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New York authorities and meteorologists on Tuesday defended a decision to shut down America's biggest city for a storm that skirted the Big Apple, dumping the worst snow east and north.

[NEW YORK] New York authorities and meteorologists on Tuesday defended a decision to shut down America's biggest city for a storm that skirted the Big Apple, dumping the worst snow east and north.

Travel bans were lifted, public transport resumed and parks reopened in the city of eight million people, easing many of the measures put in place as Winter Storm Juno moved in on Monday.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city got only a fraction of the 60cm of snow that had been widely predicted in the 48 hours leading up to the storm.

"You plan the best you can and you lean toward safety," said New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo, fending off a barrage of questions.

"It may actually have brought us back to full operating capacity sooner but I do not criticize weather forecasters. I learn." The clean-up will continue until Wednesday, when schools will reopen, and city and state employees will return to work.

Broadway theatres announced that most shows would go ahead on Tuesday as planned, after the Great White Way went dark on Monday.

A 'NO-BRAINER'

Mr de Blasio, who repeatedly warned before the storm struck that it was likely to be one of the worst in the city's history, fended off accusations that he had been needlessly alarmist.

"To me, it was a no-brainer. We had to take precautions to keep people safe. God forbid this storm had not moved east, we would then have been hit," he said.

Had travel not been banned, city residents would have been in possible mortal danger, and any economic impact would have been far more negative had there been more destruction, he said.

"We are going to be very forceful in our messages to people when we sense danger," Mr de Blasio said.

The director of the National Weather Service later apologised for not better outlining the forecast uncertainty and said procedure would be reviewed.

"We need to make these uncertainties clear for decision makers to assess the risk, take action or do nothing knowing the level of uncertainty with each forecast," said Louis Uccellini.

"We do recognize the need to work harder and smarter to produce better forecast and better communicate forecast uncertainty." The Service said more than 76cm fell in parts of Massachusetts, where the state capital Boston received more than 50.8cm.

It warned that life-threatening conditions persist along the coast from Long Island in New York, into New England to the north.

On the streets of Manhattan, there were mixed feelings about whether the authorities had over-reacted.

"This is a mere dusting and I've been here for my whole life, with a little bit in London, and this is ridiculous, when they call it a storm," said financial consultant Curtis Brill.

"People do have to be cautious and ice and driving do not mix, so it's better to take precautions and not have accidents," said Jennifer Daly, who works on New York's Fifth Avenue.

AIR TRAVEL DISRUPTED

In the end, snowfall varied throughout the New York City area, with some parts of the city receiving as little as four inches - far short of its record 68.3cm in February 2006.

Long Island, east of Manhattan and jutting out to sea - was however hit with more than 50.8cm of snow. Police in the easternmost Suffolk County confirmed that a teenage boy died late Monday in a sledding accident.

Cuomo lifted the travel ban, which was imposed at 11.00pm Monday, at 8.00 am (1300 GMT). Limited rail and subway services resumed and will be back to normal by Wednesday.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie also lifted the travel ban in his state, but officials in both states nevertheless warned against all but essential travel.

A driving ban was also later lifted in Connecticut.

Flight disruptions are still extensive. Around 5,300 flights within, to and from the United States have been cancelled for Tuesday and Wednesday, according to flightaware.com.

Officials said virtually all flights at New York's LaGuardia airport were cancelled Tuesday as well as most at Newark and John F. Kennedy international airports.

Thousands were without power along the coast of Massachusetts, including on Nantucket Island, where some were evacuated from their homes, local media reported.

AFP