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article imageWashington an eerie ghost town as huge blizzard hits

By Peter Stebbings (AFP)     Jan 23, 2016 in World

Bus stops stand empty, mounds of snow in the place of passengers. A lone man stands outside the White House, the blizzard biting at his exposed ears.

The mammoth storm that has blanketed large areas of the US East Coast turned Washington into a virtual ghost town on Saturday.

City officials warned people to stay off the roads and remain indoors all weekend as Mother Nature hurled her worst at the US capital, in the bullseye of the storm.

It appeared people had heeded the dire warnings of "life and death implications" given by Mayor Muriel Bowser, on what would normally have been a busy weekend morning in the city of 660,000.

Streets were eerily empty and the handful of people braving the blizzard and gusts of icy winds stumbled warily along the deserted roads. Trains and buses were all canceled for the weekend.

A worker clears snow from a sidewalk in downtown Washington  DC
A worker clears snow from a sidewalk in downtown Washington, DC
Olivier Douliery, AFP

Outside the White House, an area that would ordinarily be packed with tourists, one man took pictures with his smartphone as two Secret Service officers stamped their feet to ward off temperatures of 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-4 Celsius).

Taisuke Tsugawa, a senior producer with the Japanese public broadcaster NHK, said he was visiting the United States to cover the February 1 caucus in Iowa, the start of the long process that will end with the election of a new US president in November.

But he was not expecting anything like this, he said.

"In northern Japan it's like this, but in America I've never seen anything like this before," said Tsugawa, who lives in Tokyo, which gets its fair share of wintry weather.

"I quite like it, but we can't do anything for work in this situation. We can't even get to the office to do any work."

A stone's throw away, another man, haplessly clasping a black umbrella, emerged from the luxurious St. Regis hotel.

A woman walks on 21st street in Washington on January 23  2016
A woman walks on 21st street in Washington on January 23, 2016
Olivier Douliery, AFP

Toyo Shima, his head bowed to the wind, said he was too cold to stand about talking and was heading to another hotel across the street for a hot breakfast.

Shima, also from Tokyo and in town on business, said he was looking forward to getting home.

But with thousands of flights canceled in the US, did he fancy his chances?

"I hope so. I hope it will be on Monday, but I'm not sure. I did not expect this," he said.

In downtown Washington, the odd police car meandered silently down streets full of shops that were not likely to open on Saturday or Sunday. Only a few convenience stores were welcoming customers.

A policeman in a high-visibility jacket held the arm of an elderly man as he attempted to negotiate a particularly treacherous sidewalk where the snow drifts went up as far as his knees.

Outside hotels, groups of men tightly wrapped up against the elements forlornly shoveled snow -- as it kept falling.

- 'I love it' -

There were similar scenes of desolation in the normally lively neighborhoods of Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle, which on a usual Saturday would be bustling with shoppers, and their cafes and restaurants doing brisk trade.

A worker clears snow from a sidewalk in Washington  DC
A worker clears snow from a sidewalk in Washington, DC
Olivier Douliery, AFP

One man giggled as he hopped gingerly along a sidewalk, desperately attempting to keep his feet as dry as possible.

Three women shuffled along a main road, their faces contorted as the blizzard pounded them relentlessly.

Ralston Cox was among the few out and about early in Dupont Circle, trudging through the snow and stopping occasionally to take photos with his phone.

"I'm just enjoying the quiet and the snow," he said.

Cox said he had been in Washington twice before in the last 20 years when the city experienced a similar winter weather onslaught.

"But this is pretty spectacular," he said.

"It's nice, it's very quiet. I love it," Cox added.

"I am going to go home, put on a fire in the fire place and feed my cats and myself, and just come out occasionally."

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