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'Small' storm kills 21and cuts power to 3 million people

HUNDREDS of thousands of people across the northeastern US faced days without heat or lights after a freak October snowstorm over the weekend.

Many towns were forced to postpone Halloween revelling last night, in what seemed like a mean prank to some children.

From Maryland to Maine, high winds and wet, heavy snow brought down trees, branches and wires over the weekend.

Snowfall ranged from less than inch in some places to 32in (81cm) in the small town of Peru, Massachusetts, in the Berkshire Mountains.

The storm was blamed for at least 21 deaths, including one in Canada, mostly caused by falling trees, traffic accidents or electrocutions from downed wires. Eight people died in Pennsylvania alone.

Families huddled under blankets and winter coats at home or waited out the crisis in shelters as utility crews struggled to fix power lines brought down by the storm. Hundreds of schools closed, giving youngsters one of the earliest snow days on record.

"Such a small storm but such a big disaster," said Marina Shen, who spent Sunday night with her husband and dog at a middle school in Wayland, a Boston suburb of 13,000 where half the homes lost power.

More than 3m homes and businesses in the Northeast lost power at the height of the storm. Some of the same areas were hit hard by the rainy remnants of Hurricane Irene just two months ago, but in many places the utility damage was worse this time.

The trees had yet to lose their leaves and captured all too much of the snow.

"The leaves on the trees have made whole trees and huge branches come down and taken down more wires," said New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. "It's a huge challenge for everybody."

Power companies brought in crews from other states to help, but with lights out and live wires down all over the place, many communities urged children to skip trick-or-treating as the streets were too dark.