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Blizzard slams Atlantic Canada, closing schools, disrupting travel

Young people take advantage of school cancellations due to the weather as they slide on Citadel Hill in Halifax on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014. A major winter storm is expected to bring strong winds and up to 30 centimetres of snow for parts of the Maritimes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

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Young people take advantage of school cancellations due to the weather as they slide on Citadel Hill in Halifax on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014. A major winter storm is expected to bring strong winds and up to 30 centimetres of snow for parts of the Maritimes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

HALIFAX - A blizzard swept across parts of Atlantic Canada on Wednesday, closing schools and government offices as well as disrupting travel throughout the region.

Flights were delayed or cancelled, universities and colleges shut down and recreational programs postponed as crews worked to clear roads in blinding conditions.

"It's absolutely horrible," said Shelby Smith, a McDonald's restaurant employee in downtown Halifax who was among many workers sent home early.

As gusts howled and a sudden blast of icy shards caught her off-guard, her assessment was succinct.

"It's the wind, that's the worst," she said.

Just up the street, which climbs at a fairly steep pitch next to Halifax's historic Citadel Hill, a Metro Transit bus roared and snorted as its back wheels spun helplessly in the growing mire of snow and slush.

Matt Speight, originally from Saint John, N.B., wasn't impressed.

"I've seen worse," he said.

Environment Canada said there were two distinct phases to the storm, with the first bringing between three and five centimetres of snow on Tuesday night through Wednesday morning in western Nova Scotia and the Halifax area.

A second, more powerful blow hit later, dumping heavier snowfall amounts that were expected to range from 15 to 30 centimetres in Nova Scotia and 15 to 25 centimetres in southeastern New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island by late Wednesday. Similar amounts were predicted for western Newfoundland through Wednesday night.

Doug Mercer, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, said gusts in some points of Nova Scotia were as high as 82 kilometres per hour during the evening.

"It turned out to be fairly severe," said Mercer. "We're getting visibility that is fairly low."

Marine Atlantic cancelled its ferry crossings between Port aux Basques, N.L., and Sydney, N.S. due to high winds and rough sea conditions. Flights at airports in Halifax, Fredericton, Moncton, N.B., and Charlottetown were delayed or cancelled.

Shopping malls, libraries and some government services were also closed. The health board that oversees services in Cape Breton moved to emergency services only as the storm swept through and most liquor stores in Nova Scotia closed their doors at 4 p.m.

The storm also brought powerful winds and snow to western Newfoundland and the Northern Peninsula.

The Avalon Peninsula and southeastern Newfoundland was forecast to receive rain, while the centre of the province was expecting an unpleasant mix of rain, freezing rain and wet snow.

"As this sweeps through it's going to be a royal mess of snow switching over to freezing rain and then switching over to rain," said Mercer.

Mercer said the storm should have largely cleared the Maritimes by Thursday morning, though strong winds are expected to continue through the day in Newfoundland.

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