BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts residents hunkered down Friday for a blizzard that brought gusty winds, coastal flooding potential and the possibility of as much as 3 feet of snow to the eastern part of the state.
Gov. Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency and banned travel on roads as of 4 p.m., saying the storm posed "extremely dangerous conditions" with bands of snow dropping up to 2 to 3 inches per hour at its height.
The statewide travel ban, believed to be the first of its kind since the blizzard of 1978, provides exceptions including public works and public safety employees, utility workers and members of the news media. Patrick said it was not to punish drivers, but to make sure emergency workers and plowing crews have access to the roads. Emergency management officials said people were observing the ban.
By late Friday, more than 300,000 customers were without power in Massachusetts, most of them in the southeastern part of the state and on Cape Cod. Emergency workers at the ready included 2,000 utility crews to deal with power outages, Patrick said.
Boston and much of eastern Massachusetts were under a blizzard warning until 1 p.m. Saturday. A flood warning was in effect until noon Saturday for the state's east-facing coastline, with the worst conditions expected Saturday morning.
Boston was among the cities closing schools and declaring snow emergencies and parking bans.
"This is a storm of major proportions," Mayor Thomas Menino said. "Stay off the roads. Stay home."
Stores throughout the state were packed with people buying food, shovels, batteries and other storm supplies.
At a Stop & Shop supermarket in Whitman, bread, milk and bundles of firewood were nearly gone by 9:30 a.m. Friday. Yet some shoppers were still skeptical that the storm would be as huge as predicted.
"I just want to see if it's going to really happen," said Jessica Zinkevicz, 31, a certified nursing assistant from East Bridgewater who went to Stop & Shop to stock up on Diet Snapple, water and frozen vegetables.
"I'm just taking it as it comes," she said. "Once it starts coming down hard, then I might start panicking."
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority shut down all service — including subways, commuter trains and buses — by 3:30 p.m. State transportation officials expected service to be up and running again by Monday morning.
Boston's Logan International Airport said it would try to stay open during the storm, but no flights were scheduled before Saturday evening.
Predictions of 2 feet or more of snow could make the storm one of the biggest in recorded history, but an even greater concern than the snow was the possibility of a damaging storm surge.
The National Weather Service warned of moderate to major coastal flooding at high tide on Saturday morning, with a 2- to 3-foot storm surge that could damage homes, cause beach erosion and make some roads impassable.
Officials urged people in flood-prone coastal areas of Marshfield to voluntarily leave until after Saturday morning's high tide. Shelters were open in Marshfield, Scituate and on Cape Cod.
Revere, Sandwich Harbor and the east coast of Nantucket were considered vulnerable to major flooding, according to the weather service.
Many businesses in the state were closed by noon, but some local coffee shops and restaurants stayed open.
At Rosie's Liquors in Abington, customers were lined up 10 deep Friday, snapping up 30-packs of beer, bottles of wine and every single bottle of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum.
Manager Kristen Brown said the store had five times its typical sales Thursday and Friday.
"It has been crazy," Brown said. "We've been absolutely slammed. It's almost been like Christmas here."
"A lot of people are saying, 'I'm going to be stuck with my family all weekend. I need something to do.'"
Some gas stations were almost out of fuel after customers formed lines to fill their tanks.
"It hasn't snowed like this in two years. Most people are caught way off guard," said James Stone, owner of a Sunoco station in Abington.
Stone had gone through almost his whole supply of regular-grade gas by noon Friday and was saving the last 3,000 gallons for plow drivers. He said he expected the storm to prevent delivery trucks from bringing more gas until Sunday.
Paul Czapienski, owner of Foster Farrar & Co. True Value hardware store in Northampton, said that business was brisk Friday, but that there was no frenzied or panic buying.
"Being in a hardware store, unfortunately we're in this situation where the worse the weather is, the better off we are," Czapienski said. "It's sad, but it is true."
The storm comes almost 35 years to the day that the famed Blizzard of '78 hit the region. That storm, which killed dozens of people, left about 27 inches of snow in Boston and packed hurricane-force winds and flooding that caused extensive damage along the coast.
Associated Press reporters Denise Lavoie, Jay Lindsay and Bob Salsberg contributed to this report.