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A massive snow storm has whipped up record-setting tides on the United States' east coast, causing major flooding in New Jersey and Delaware after dumping more than half-a-metre of snow.

The heaviest snow engulfed New York on Saturday and was not expected to stop until Sunday, when up to 80cm may have piled up in the nation's largest city, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

The mayor said the storm had strengthened beyond earlier expectations in terms of accumulation and intensity. 

At least 10 people died in the blizzard, and emergencies were declared in 11 states, affecting more than 60 million people, with thousands facing power outages.

A Capitol Hill employee used a heavy earth-moving machine to clear snow during the winter storm in Washington [Reuters]

Roads closed

New York City buses operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority were due to be suspended at noon as the storm bore down on the city.

Nearly 4,300 US flights were cancelled, including virtually all travel into New York City airports, according to the FlightAware.com tracking website and transportation officials.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency on Saturday and was the 11th state to do so in order to get a handle on highways made impassable by the drifting snow and to shore up coastal areas where the blizzard conditions raised the danger of flooding.

Al Jazeera's Gabriel Elizondo, reporting from his balcony in Jersey City, New Jersey, on Saturday said that snow had already piled up to his knees.

"On any other day you would be able to see the skyscrapers of New York City from here, but conditions now have caused a complete white-out," Elizondo said. 

The extreme conditions prompted officials to urge residents to stay inside and allow snow ploughs to clear roads.

"Our message, and we need the public to listen, is to stay home and to stay off the streets. That includes people who are attempting to drive, but it also includes people who are walking," said Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser.

However, some residents said they just couldn't resist seeing famous monuments frosted with snow.

People in Central Park enjoyed the snow during the first major winter storm of 2016 in New York [Peter Foley/EPA]

High winds battered the region, reaching 112km/h on Wallops Island, Virginia, late on Friday, and whipping up the tides, said meteorologist Greg Gallina of the National Weather Service (NWS).

Tides higher than those caused by Superstorm Sandy caused major flooding along the Jersey Shore and Delaware coast and set records in Cape May, New Jersey, and Lewes, Delaware, said NWS meteorologist Patrick O'Hara.

The winter storm dumped nearly 60cm of snow on the suburbs of Washington, DC, on Saturday [Carlos Barria/Reuters]

Record storms

"Records are getting close; we're getting into the top five storms," Gallina said.

The record high of 71cm of snow in the nation's capital was set in 1922, and the deepest recent snowfall was 43cm in 2010.

Many stores were left with bare shelves as residents stocked up on food, water and wine, preparing to spend the weekend indoors.

The storm developed along the Gulf Coast, dumping snow over Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky on Friday.

On the east coast, warm, moist air from the Atlantic Ocean collided with cold air to form the massive winter system, meteorologists said.

Snow covered the streets in Times Square in New York City [Astrid Riecken/Getty/AFP]

Source: Al Jazeera And Reuters