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USA TODAY - Stella pounded the East Coast with its icy wrath Tuesday, dropping steady snow in the New York and Washington, D.C., regions and wreaking havoc on travel throughout the Northeast. Airline officials cancelled most flights in and out of New York and Boston, and Amtrak suspended service between the two cities. Three governors declared states of emergency.

In Rochester, N.Y., emergency crews were working to rescue occupants of a vehicle that plunged into a gorge late Tuesday morning as icy roads were reported throughout the region, authorities said.

Photos: Winter Storm Stella blasts East Coast

Winter storm watches and warnings were in effect from the mountains of North Carolina to northern Maine, a distance of more than 1,000 miles. But the National Weather Service early Tuesday cancelled a blizzard warning for the New York City metro area.

Related: Snowstorm causing flight cancelations at Lambert Airport

The nor'easter was forecast to rage up the East Coast through most of Tuesday, slamming some areas withwind gusts of 60 mph or more. The weather service early Tuesday said parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut could see as much as two feet of snow. Its office near Philadelphia said the storm was “life-threatening” and warned residents to “shelter in place.”

National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Hayes told USA TODAY that the bulls-eye for the most snow continues to be southeastern Pennsylvania, northern New Jersey and the Lower Hudson River Valley in New York.

New England was also a target, with the Boston forecast calling for 10 to 16 inches.

In the Rochester accident, authorities said a vehicle plunged into the Genesee River gorge late Tuesday morning. Lt. Dana Cielinski of the Rochester Fire Department said water rescue and ropes rescue units were on the scene. She said she didn't know what caused the crash, but noted that roads were snow-covered and slippery throughout the region.

In D.C., the U.S. House canceled Tuesday votes and won't reconvene until late Wednesday. Federal agencies on Tuesday were operating on a three-hour delay, the Office of Personnel Management said, with options for unscheduled leave or teleworking. President Trump weighed in on Twitter: "Everyone along the east coast be safe and listen to local officials as a major winter storm approaches. @NWShttp://weather.gov."

Governors in three states — New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — declared states of emergency as the storm descended. Connecticut took more precautions early Tuesday morning when Gov. Dan Malloy issued a statewide travel ban that prohibits all road travel for non-essential personnel.

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie tweeted: "I urge all New Jerseyans to remain off the roads so we can safely and efficiently handle all emergency situations. Be safe everyone!"

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered nonessential state employees to stay home except in the state's North Country, where the snowfall was expected to be lighter.​ Cuomo on Tuesday said road crews were deploying 50,000 tons of salt. He said he had deployed 2,000 National Guard troops from other parts of the state to New York's Southern Tier.

In Chicago, Illinois State Police said snowy weather caused two crashes on an expressway that involved 34 cars.

The forecast brought more chaos to air travel.

By 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, airlines canceled 7,746 flights this week, disrupting travel plans for 400,000 passengers, according to FlightAware.com, an online tracking service.

Nearly one-third of scheduled flights Monday in Chicago weren’t flown, according to FlightAware. More than 80% of the schedules in New York and Boston, and half the flights to and from Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia were canceled Tuesday. Plans for Wednesday are still fluid, with more than 600 cancelations already.

“The vast majority of flights to/from New York City and Boston are cancelled today,” FlightAware CEO Daniel Baker said.

Related: The ultimate snow day survival guide

Amtrak on Tuesday suspended service between New York City and Boston, as well as between Albany/Rensselaer and Boston, and between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.

In New York City, the above-ground portions of the subway system were being shut down Tuesday morning. At New York’s Grand Central Terminal, the storm virtually knocked out the morning rush hour Tuesday. A few dozen commuters crossed the floor of the cavernous station shortly before 9 a.m., a few rushing to catch the last commuter trains heading to northern suburbs before the noon shutdown that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in an early-morning tweet.

Just after noon, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the worst of the storm had passed, and that the city's snow accumulation totals had been downgraded. “But it’s cold and windy, and we are urging New Yorkers to stay off of the roads to allow our Sanitation department to clear the roads,” he said.

During a midday briefing on Long Island, Cuomo said the New York City metropolitan area was spared from the brunt of Stella’s high snowfall forecasts.

“Mother Nature can be an unpredictable lady, and she was, once again, today,” he said. "That does not mean it is safe to go out. The roads are very, very nasty.”

He urged New Yorkers to avoid unnecessary vehicle travel.

New York’s Hudson Valley and the western part of the state got higher snowfall totals as the storm tracked closer to the East Coast than forecasters had expected.

The storm also packed high winds. With gusts of more than 30 miles per hour, winds contributed power outages in areas with overhead electrical lines. In all, Long Island’s Nassau county had an estimated 5,000 power outages, while neighboring Suffolk County had roughly 1,300 outages, Cuomo said. Power was expected to be restored by Tuesday night, he said.

On Park Avenue early Tuesday, doormen and cleaning crews kept the sidewalk clear outside the headquarters of global banking giant JPMorgan Chase. A few blocks north, at East 50th Street, a homeless man with a sign asking for help sat on the sidewalk in a tattered parka. He declined to give his name, but gratefully accepted money with a response of “God bless.”

But Stella couldn’t stop Broadway.

“The show must go on,” Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, said in a statement, announcing that all performances would proceed as scheduled despite the storm. “For visitors who are staying in hotels and can’t get home, it’s a great time to see a show. Locals can see a hot show in a warm theatre,” she said.

Stella's snowfall is "not as bad as we forecast Monday," said National Weather Service meteorologist John Murray. Though blizzard and winter storm warnings were no longer in effect for New York City, he said, “we still have strong winds and coastal flooding warnings.”

The storm was tracking closer to the coast in the city area, “drawing in warmer air,” and limiting snowfall totals.

In New York, a coastal flood warning covering the bays of western Long Island and the Atlantic Ocean beachfront took effect Tuesday morning. New York was among cities that took a pre-emptive strike, announcing Monday that public schools will be closed for the city's 900,000 students.

Once the snow ends, it will likely stick around for awhile. Temperatures are forecast to remain quite chilly through the end of the week.

In South Philadelphia, where Stella missed her mark, funeral director Randy Goldy showed up to work four hours late after navigating treacherous roads.

"Death takes no holiday," joked Goldy, who looked dapper despite the icky conditions. Goldy said he was impressed by a couple of random Philadelphians who helped him dig out his car. The main thoroughfare was cleared by early Tuesday afternoon, but tiny side streets, barely passable on a good day, remained caked in ice.

He said he harbored no ill will to meteorologists who made bad calls. "It's just like a great TV show," he said. "They want to make it happen."

Chris Dodge of Manchester, N.H., was in D.C. on Tuesday for an education policy conference. He shrugged off the city's slushy mess. "Back home there is 2 feet being dumped on us," he said with a smile.

Colleague Sean Peschel of Somersworth, N.H., said D.C., known for its paralysis when winter storms hit, could learn from its hardy northern neighbors. "We are like the post office."

Margaret Callahan of Exeter, N.H., said she keeps a couple pounds of salt and sand in her truck from the end of October to May. "You know you have to go to work," she said. "No excuses."

But the winter weather warriors admitted to one D.C. foible: How did they get to the White House from their hotel? By foot or metro? "We Uber'd here," Dodge said.

In Fairfax, Va., the sound of shovels and ice scrappers filled the air as residents cleaned off a couple inches of snow, topped with a sheet of ice, the kind that breaks off in sheets and would be hazardous flying off the top of a car.

At a nearby Safeway, the handful of customers barely outnumbered store employees busy restocking depleted shelves midday Tuesday as pavement once again became visible and icy spots on the roadways retreated. While few shelves were completely bare, the chaos of last-minute shopping before the storm was apparent, with gaps in the bread, eggs and cheese aisles, and a clear reduction in the beer and wine section.

The shopping list for Jana Speaks, 34, and her 42-year-old husband, Patrick? Sweet potatoes and eggs.

“All we eat is eggs, really, and we ate them all. It wasn’t a factor of the storm,” Jana said.

The couple wasn’t into the whole "race to the store and stock up amid lengthy checkout lines the day before a storm." They live across the street and know they can easily hop over for a few items anytime. For them, this storm and the mild winter overall were a letdown.

“I don’t care for snow all winter but I wanted at least one this year. It didn’t have to be a blizzard, but I wanted to see some good, powdery snow and take our daughter out and play in it,” Patrick said.

Mark Kaplan, 57, of Friendly, W.Va., came to return bread pudding he bought with other items Monday, when he spent 30 to 45 minutes in the checkout line. “I had just gotten into town and I had nothing at all in the room,” he said. “I got in here and I was like, 'What in the hell is going on?' And then I realized ‘Oooooh snow’. Where I’m from, that doesn’t happen. I keep forgetting people get a little crazy. It was a little shocking.”

Contributing: Katharine Lackey, Melanie Eversley, Ben Mutzabaugh, Susan Miller,Greg Toppo; Jon Campbell, Democrat & Chronicle; James M. O'Neill , Keldy Ortiz and Katie Sobko, The (Bergen) Record; Margie Fishman, The (Wilmington) News Journal; Associated Press