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News Wrap: Arctic air lingers in Northeast as winter storm wraps up

January 3, 2014 at 12:00 AM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF:  That blustery winter storm dropped a foot of snow on the Midwest before setting its sights on the Northeast, where today it closed schools and snarled commutes on the ground and in the air.  At least 13 deaths were blamed on the storm, many from car accidents.

Hari Sreenivasan has our report.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Snow plows across the Northeast started working early and often, in an effort to erase the first big storm of the new year.  Though the snow has mostly tapered off now, it’s the drop in temperature that’s cause for concern.

MAN:  At subzero temperatures, you worry about frostbite.  You worry about hypothermia.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  And in a press conference this afternoon, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said it could have been worse.

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK, Massachusetts:  Mother Nature is fickle, as you know, and has a mind of her own.  We had a — from my perspective, a lucky break or two.  One is that the storm came largely in the evening and not in the middle of a workday.  And it followed the forecast.  That hasn’t always happened.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour were reported in parts of Massachusetts, and windchills as low as minus-30 degrees.  Boston was hard-hit, with nearly 14 inches of snow blanketing the city’s streets, and communities to the west got nearly double that amount.

Coastal flooding is now the biggest concern.  In Scituate, Massachusetts, many residents have already evacuated their homes.  New York and New Jersey were still under states of emergency.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, New York:  We can safely say we have had our first significant snowfall of this year.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  In New York City, Bill de Blasio faced his first major challenge as the new mayor, asking people to let the street cleaners do their jobs.

BILL DE BLASIO:  I can tell you already we have a very powdery snow.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Earlier this morning, he took to his own driveway to shovel snow outside his Brooklyn home.

By midday, the commercial centers of New York City were up and running.  Traffic is slowing well.  The sun is out.  Temperatures here are in the high teens.  But, up north, the far colder temperatures and the windchill factor made things much more difficult.

In Maine, the subzero temperatures kept residents indoors.  But some tourists still tried to brave the arctic air at a historical military attraction.

MAN:  Bone-chilling.  Most of me is warm, except for my legs.

 

HARI SREENIVASAN:  And airports across the U.S. remained backed up, with holiday travelers stranded after more than 2,000 flights were canceled today.

MAN:  The warning has been coming for a couple of days, so we expected it.  We booked a hotel here.  And we’re stuck.  We will make the best of it.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  And although the Midwest was hit with the worst of the storm earlier this week, the arctic air still lingers across the region.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The Obama administration announced two new executive actions affecting background checks for gun buyers today.  Both focus on limiting firearm access for people with mental health issues.  One rule lets hospitals submit additional information about a patient’s mental health into the background check system.  President Obama proposed tough gun control measures in Congress last year in the wake of the Newtown school shootings, but they got little support.

The administration also took steps on the National Security Agency’s surveillance program today, amid conflicting court decisions about its legality.  U.S. officials were in the process of asking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to renew the NSA’s phone collection program for another 90 days.  And the Department of Justice filed its expected appeal to overturn a judge’s federal ruling that the phone records program was likely unconstitutional.

The Justice Department also took action in a challenge to the new health care law, calling for an end to a block on its birth control mandate.  The law requires some religious organizations to provide health insurance that includes coverage of contraception.  But the Obama administration said those religious nonprofits can exempt themselves from the requirement.  On Tuesday, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor delayed the mandate’s implementation hours before it was to go into effect.

The U.S. Embassy in South Sudan evacuated more of its staff today because of escalating violence.  And, starting tomorrow, consular services for American citizens will be suspended.  In Washington, a State Department spokeswoman said they were working hard to airlift out Americans, and others, amid the ongoing political unrest.

MARIE HARF, Spokeswoman, State Department:  We have evacuated over 440 U.S. officials and private citizens and more than 750 citizens of at least 27 other countries on eight chartered flights and nine military aircraft.  Who remains?  The ambassador, a few key personnel and, of course, security at our facility there, both ours and DOD.  But I think we’re certainly open to doing more evacuations if there’s a need, depending on security.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  As many as 75,000 people have fled the violence in the city of Bor.  Most of the displaced families are camping out in the Nile River region of Awerial without sanitation or clean drinking water.  Humanitarian organizations are struggling to quickly deliver aid to that area.

In Seattle, Washington, 30,000 Boeing machinists voted on a critical labor contract today, with billions of dollars and thousands of jobs on the line.  If workers agree to concessions on pension and health care benefits, Boeing will build its new 777X jetliner and wings in Seattle.  If they reject the contract, Boeing has said it will look to a number of other states interested in hosting a new factory.  A final tally is expected late tonight.  We will have more on what’s at stake later in the program.

In economic news, 2013 turned out to be the best single year for the auto industry in the past six.  Ford led all major automakers with an with an 11 percent jump in sales.  Chrysler and Nissan trailed behind at 9 percent, and General Motors ended up the year up 7 percent.  The month of December didn’t see such a brisk sales pace, attributed in part to bad winter weather and a Black Friday shopping surge in November.

Stocks on Wall Street continued to have a sluggish start on the second day of trading in the new year.  The Dow Jones industrial average gained 28 points to close at nearly 16,470.  The Nasdaq fell 11 points to close above 4,131.  For the week, the Dow lost a fraction of a percent.  The Nasdaq fell more than half a percent.