MANTOLOKING, N.J. - A late-winter storm inflicted new damage Thursday to parts of the Jersey shore still struggling to recover from Superstorm Sandy, as New Englanders braced for potential evacuations and coastal flooding.
The storm buried parts of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions with snow but barely laid a glove on Washington, D.C.
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As the storm moved up the coast to New England, strong winds, heavy snow and power outages were expected.
In Mantoloking, N.J., the Jersey shore town hardest-hit by Sandy, pounding surf broke through a temporary dune during the early-morning high tide. The dune breach forced the closing of a major coastal highway for several hours, but the highway re-opened late Thursday morning.
Detective Stacy Ferris said the breach spanned three oceanfront properties, sending 3 to 6 inches of water flowing through onto the highway.
The state Department of Transportation, along with Mantoloking's own public works crews and contractors, were busy scooping and pushing sand back into the breach to prepare for high tide, expected at about 3 p.m. Thursday.
"We're going to plug that hole before the next high tide," Ferris said.
Every one of the 521 homes in Mantoloking was damaged to some degree by Sandy. Many were completely destroyed and hundreds of others suffered major damage.
New Englanders were bracing for the brunt of the storm Thursday evening and Friday morning.
The National Weather Service was predicting up to 7 inches of heavy, wet snow in southeastern Connecticut and wind gusts that could hit 50 mph. A coastal flood warning was in effect starting Thursday morning for east-facing shores in Massachusetts, with up to a 3-foot surge at high tide in some areas. Central Massachusetts was bracing for 4 to 8 inches of snow, while early predictions were that Boston would get less.
Dozens of car crashes were reported across Connecticut Thursday morning. A FedEx tractor trailer overturned on Interstate 84 in Tolland, causing a chain-reaction crash involving about nine other vehicles, including a state police cruiser and two other tractor-trailers.
The eastbound side of the highway was closed for hours Thursday morning, but no serious injuries were reported.
In the seacoast town of Scituate, Mass., about 30 miles south of Boston, emergency officials were setting up a shelter at the high school and preparing for three high tides during the duration of the storm, including one at about 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
"They are recommending that folks who live right on the coast to evacuate at least three hours before high tide," said Mark Patterson, the town's harbormaster.
On Cape Cod, where the storm was expected to be mostly rain, emergency officials were concerned about more beach erosion. The area already suffered extensive erosion from Superstorm Sandy and a major snowstorm last month.
"We've really gotten more erosion in the last six months than we've experienced in the last decade," said Sandwich Town manager George Dunham. "These three storms are really taking a toll."
Others in Massachusetts were carefree about the storm.
Mail carrier Stephen Manning didn't even wear a coat as he delivered mail along Dorchester Avenue in Boston. Instead, he wore a hooded sweatshirt.
"This is warm," Manning said. "You wear a jacket when it's cold."
The storm pummeled the nation's midsection Tuesday, killing at least five people in weather-related traffic accidents. More than 1,100 flights were cancelled Tuesday at Chicago's two airports, and hundreds more were cancelled Wednesday in Washington, Philadelphia and New York.
In Washington, where as much as 10 inches had been forecast, the storm did little but drop harmless snowflakes that rapidly melted amid warmer-than-expected temperatures.
There were bigger problems elsewhere in the region, though.
In southwest Virginia, a 22-year-old man was killed early Thursday after his vehicle ran off an icy Route 632, went over an embankment and landed upside down in a creek.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency and about 50 National Guard soldiers were sent out to help clear roads. Up to 20 inches of snow piled up in central and western parts of the state. More than 200,000 customers in Virginia lost power.
In Maryland, the U.S. Coast Guard on Thursday resumed searching for a distressed fishing boat that was lost in rough seas with two men on board. The Coast Guard said the 67-foot boat became disabled 15 miles east of Assateague Island Wednesday. The Coast Guard found a third man on a life raft and was able to rescue him.
The storm dumped 2 feet of snow in parts of neighboring West Virginia, closing schools in more than half the state and leaving more than 20,000 customers without power.
In Pennsylvania and Ohio, many areas had 4 to 6 inches of snow.