Nor’easter Pounds East Coast, Nixes Manafort Hearing

A Virginia Department of Transportation crew at work Friday morning. (Photo Courtesy of VDOT)

ALEXANDRIA Va. (CN) – A major Nor’easter pounded the East Coast from Washington, D.C., to New England, shutting down government offices, courts and schools, and postponing the scheduled arraignment hearing of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The Eastern seaboard was slammed  by wind gusts exceeding 50 mph, and saw hurricane-strength winds of 80 to 90 mph in some parts of New England.

More than 1.6 million homes and businesses in the eastern U.S. are reported to have lost power Friday afternoon.  According to the poweroutage.us website, most of the reported outages were in Pennsylvania, where 376,000 homes and businesses had no power Friday.

The storm has already dumped heavy snow on Ohio and upstate New York, and a swath extending from Boston south to Rhode island was forecast to get up to 5 inches of snow from the late-winter storm.

In New Jersey, officials worried that the storm could take a chunk out of beaches just south of Atlantic City that are still being repaired because of damage from previous storms.

Winds were expected to increase drastically throughout the day, peaking Friday afternoon in the Garden State and the New York metropolitan area with gusts from 50 to 60 mph.

New York City was placed under a snow alert Friday morning and the city Department of Sanitation placed 700 salt spreaders at the ready. The department also said snow plows will be sent out when, and if, two inches of snow has fallen.

Manafort, who is facing multiple charges of tax evasion and bank fraud, was scheduled to appear at 1:30 p.m. Friday at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.

A car is towed in Alexandria, Virginia after a tree, toppled by strong winds, crushed its windshield. (Photo by Brandi Buchman)

Charges against Manafort have also been filed in D.C., but since he is a resident of Virginia, prosecutors reported this week they lacked the venue in Washington to bring their charges against the embroiled former chairman.

In Manhattan, the nor’easter did not interrupt the second day of deliberations in the corruption trial of Joseph Percoco, the former right-hand man of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on trial for allegedly accepting more than $300,000 in bribes.

Jurors trudged through heavy winds and rain, with occasional bursts of snow, to the Thurgood Marshall Courthouse.

U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni allowed them to leave early at 4:30 p.m., accommodating jurors who live outside the New York City area.

The Southern District of New York draws its jurors from six counties outside Manhattan and the Bronx, including Putnam, which declared a state of emergency, and Orange, which experienced the heaviest snowfall.

On NPR’s “The Brian Lehrer Show,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio noted that the city was mostly spared the storm’s wrath.

“There might be some flooding in some areas in southern Brooklyn and Queens that people should be very careful about,” he said.

The intense storm greeted the nation’s capital early Friday morning with severe wind gusts approaching 70 mph, leaving thousands without power and snarling the morning commute.

Gusts reached 67 mph at Washington Dulles International Airport, and registered at 62 mph and Washington Reagan National Airport, the National Weather Service said.

Due to the severe weather, the Office of Personnel Management announced that the federal government is closed for the day, except for emergency employees, who are expected to report to work.

The National Zoo and the Smithsonian museums are also closed, along with District of Columbia Public Schools, which announced that parent teacher conferences will be rescheduled.

Morning commuters meanwhile were met with downed trees and power lines, along with heavy delays on Metro, with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announcing that trains are operating at slower speeds above ground due to the high winds.

A landscape crew begins work on a fallen tree in a Silver Spring, Md., townhouse community. A powerful windstorm swept through the region on Thursday night and Friday morning, wind gusts of up to 60 mph. (Photo by Tim Ryan)

Washington power company Pepco noted power outages across the District and said it has dispatched crews to assess damage and restore power. In some cases, Pepco said “an estimated restoration time is not available.”

The District Court for the District of Columbia meanwhile is set to open at 10 a.m.

The District will see the strongest winds until noon Friday, but a high wind warning remains in effect until 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning, according to the National Weather Service, which said winds won’t dip below 30 mph until Sunday afternoon.

“This will hamper the repair of power lines and tree removal,” the National Weather Service said in a statement for the Baltimore, Md. and Washington, D.C. area.

The statement also noted that ravel will be dangerous and conditions hazardous for pedestrians, advising people to avoid being outside near trees and branches.

Kathleen Leonard, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Traffic, told Courthouse News crews are mobilized and on the road, clearing fallen trees, power lines and other debris. Crews were already out before dawn Friday morning, working to mitigate some of the damage, she said.

The department encourages drivers to check road closures before heading out, reduce their speed while driving and to “move over” for responders donning blue, red or amber lights, including VDOT and other utility crews.

The high winds in Northern Virginia are expected through Saturday morning.

A victim of the weather. A light pole felled near the federal courthouse in Alexandria. (Photo by Brandi Buchman)

“Crews are also prepared to support any issues with traffic signals, overhead and ground-mounted signs and electrical and lighting structures,” the department reports.

The Prince George’s County circuit and district courts in Upper Marlboro, Md., shut down ahead of the storm, with the nearby Andrews Air Force Base reporting wind gusts as high as 54 mph as of Friday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

The conditions at Andrews Air Force Base caused the President Donald Trump to instead travel to Dulles International Airport in Reston, Virginia, to fly to Charlotte, North Carolina for the funeral of the Rev. Billy Graham.

Dulles has a northwest-southeast runway, more closely aligned with the wind the White House said.

The Frederick County circuit and district courts and the Baltimore County district court were the only other Maryland state courts to close on Friday morning, though the state government put in place its liberal leave policy, allowing non-essential employees to take unscheduled personal time due to inclement weather.

The federal courts Baltimore and Greenbelt, Md., also shut down on Friday. And by noon, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge has also been closed due to high winds.

Amtrak announced Friday that all services along the Northeast Corridor “are temporarily suspended due to multiple weather related issues.”

Service between New York City and Boston was suspended earlier due to flooding and multiple downed trees.

Amtrak also announced that one track on the Washington-Maryland corridor was out service for repairs due to weather damage. That forced trains to reduce speeds for safety

Courthouse News reporter Adam Klasfeld contributed to this report from New York.

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