NEW YORK - A massive blizzard bringing more than two feet of snow accompanied by high winds Saturday hit the US East Coast, bringing life to a standstill in the region.

More than 50 million people across more than a dozen states have been warned to stay at home as it moves north.

The storm — blustery in some places, blinding in others — was a swirling, sprawling mass with a reach of nearly 1,000 miles. It had already largely immobilised Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia. It all but stopped airline and railroad travel, flooded low-lying beaches and brought down trees and power lines, leaving thousands without electricity.

In New York City, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority suspended bus service at midday. In New Jersey, officials suspended most public transit, including commuter rail service, light rail service and buses.

The storm glazed roads and varnished trees. It also walloped the Mid-Atlantic region with destructive force. At least nine people died in highway accidents. The ocean poured into shore towns in New Jersey: In Sea Isle City, floodwaters laden with chunks of ice surged down the streets.

In Washington, television newscasters predicted a “100 percent chance of snowball fights,” but Mayor Muriel Bowser repeated her solemn plea: Stay indoors, she said on Saturday, warning that the storm was not over yet. With another six to 10 inches expected, streets needed to be clear for emergency vehicles, she said.

New York awoke to a wall of white. The music of chains clanking on snowploughs and buses provided a muffled accompaniment to the day — the snow quieted the noise against the pavement. Most of the buses — when they were still operating — were empty, and pedestrians, realising they had the streets to themselves, stepped off the sidewalks and walked down the middle of usually busy avenues.

The storm slammed Washington on Friday, and snow fell steadily through the night. There were reports of “thunder snow” — snow accompanied by thunder and lightning. As the storm rolled on, snow began falling about midnight in New York.

The storm stranded airline passengers up and down the East Coast, with 4,726 flights cancelled on Saturday and 1,180 cancelled for Sunday, according to, a website that tracks such things.

The weather system affects a huge swathe of the country, from Arkansas in the south to Massachusetts in the north-east.

Supermarkets ran out of food amid a rush for supplies before the first snowflakes fell on Friday.

Reuters adds: The monster blizzard that has paralysed the US East Coast intensified Saturday afternoon as it barreled into New York City, prompting a travel ban on area highways as high winds whipped up record-setting tides in New Jersey and Delaware.

The storm unexpectedly gathered strength as it slammed into the New York metropolitan area, and forecasters bumped up snowfall predictions to up to 30 inches by Sunday.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a ban on all travel on New York City area roads, including on Long Island, except for emergency vehicles, as of 2:30 pm (1930 GMT). All bridges and tunnels into the city will also close, he said.

Subways running above ground and trains operated by the Long Island Railroad and Metro North will stop service at 4 pm because snow falling at a rate of 3 inches per hour proved too much for plows on roads and railways, Cuomo said.

Broadway theaters cancelled matinee and evening performances at the urging of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who warned that the storm may rank among the top five blizzards ever to hit the nation’s largest city.

“We’re loving it. We definitely want to come back,” said Michelle Jones, 46, a mortgage company controller who had tickets to see “The Phantom of Opera” with her daughter.

“We love the snow because we don’t get this in Atlanta,” she said, about an hour before the Broadway shutdown was announced.

Heavy snow bands were moving across Long Island, New York City and northeast New Jersey, with wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour (80 kph), the National Weather Service said.

Cuomo declared a state of emergency in New York on Saturday, becoming the 11th state to take the step. “Our message, and we need the public to listen, is to stay home and to stay off the streets. That includes people who are attempting to drive, but it also includes people who are walking,” said Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser.

However, some residents said they just could not resist seeing famous monuments frosted with snow.