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East Coast digs out from epic blizzard

Last Updated Jan 24, 2016 11:29 AM EST

NEW YORK -- Millions of Americans are digging out of the snow Sunday after a mammoth blizzard sacked the East Coast, whose wide-ranging effects included nearly two dozens deaths and mass airline cancellations.

The timing could not have been better for East Coast states: The heaviest snow began falling Friday evening, and tapered off just before midnight Saturday. Millions heeded calls to stay home, enabling road crews to clear snow and ice.

The usually bustling New York City looked more like a ghost town. With Broadway shows dark, thin crowds shuffled through a different kind of Great White Way, the nickname for a section of the theater district. And Bruce Springsteen canceled Sunday's scheduled show at Madison Square Garden.

Officials say the 26.8 inches of snow that fell in New York City's Central Park is the second-most recorded since 1869. The 26.6 inches of snow that fell in Central Park on Saturday is, however, a one-day record for New York City.

The National Weather Service announced the new snowfall total just after midnight Sunday. That narrowly misses tying the previous record of 26.9 inches from February 2006.

Washington, D.C., area residents reported nearly three feet of snow in some places. Dulles Airport recorded 29.3 inches of snowfall. Reagan Airport reported up to 20 inches.

Snow stopped falling in New York City shortly after 10 p.m. Saturday night.

There were 31.3 inches on Staten Island, 30.5 inches at JFK Airport, 29.6 inches in Whitehouse, New Jersey, and 28.1 inches in Newark.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday that the ban barring non-emergency motorists from being on the roads was lifted at 7 a.m.

The travel ban covered all state and local roads in New York City, the Long Island Expressway and Northern State Parkway and the Port Authority's Hudson River crossings.

The governor said full service to the above-ground portions of the Metro-North, Long Island Rail Road and city subway systems will be restored gradually, as equipment and crews are put into position.

Cuomo said the MTA will restore bus, subway and regional railroad service as conditions warrant throughout Sunday.

Some airlines were considering restarting limited service at New York-area airports.

In New Jersey, the storm that dumped as much as 3 feet of snow in places, raising floodwaters.

At least 20 deaths have been blamed on the weather nationally. In New York City, three people died while shoveling snow, police said.

NYPD Chief of Department Jim O'Neill told reporters Saturday one person on Staten Island and two people in Queens died. He released no further details on the deaths. A police spokesman said the medical examiner's office will determine exactly how they died.

In Washington, officials said public schools will remain closed Monday. Monuments that would typically be busy with tourists stood vacant. In the morning, the steps of the Lincoln Memorial had not been cleared of snow and looked almost like a ski slope. All mass transit in the capital was to be shut down through Sunday.

Once the snow stopped, the timeline for digging out was unclear, D.C. emergency management director Chris Geldart told CBS News.

"That's the big question for everybody right now," Geldart said. "It's a big question for us as well."

As the blizzard bore down on millions of Americans, drivers skidded off snowy, icy roads in accidents that killed several people as the storm raged Friday and Saturday. Those killed included a six-year-old boy in North Carolina, a Kentucky transportation worker who was plowing highways, another Kentucky man whose car collided with a salt truck and a woman whose husband scaled a 300-foot-embankment to report that the couple's car had plunged down it and killed her.

An Ohio teenager sledding behind an all-terrain vehicle was hit by a truck and killed, and two people died of hypothermia in southwest Virginia. In North Carolina, a man whose car had veered off an icy-covered road was arrested on charges of killing a motorist who stopped to help.

Authorities said four people were killed in a two-vehicle crash on a northeastern Pennsylvania interstate overnight.

State police in Lackawanna County say a car apparently heading north in the southbound lanes on Interstate 81 collided with a southbound car shortly after 1 a.m. Saturday in South Abington Township.

Coroner Timothy Rowland said autopsies are scheduled Sunday on the victims, all of whom are from Scranton. State police and the county district attorney's office are investigating.

Elsewhere, drivers were marooned for hours in snow-choked highways in Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The snow alone would have been enough to bring the East Coast to a halt. But it was whipped into a maelstrom by winds that reached 75 mph at Dewey Beach, Delaware, and Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, the weather service said.

From Virginia to New York, sustained winds topped 30 mph and gusted to around 50 mph. The wind was so strong that scientists reported trouble measuring the snow because it sometimes seemed to blow sideways.

And if that weren't enough, the storm also had bursts of thunder and lightning. Forecasters saw lightning out the window of the Weather Prediction Center, where meteorologists were camped out.