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Storm wreaks havoc south of Watertown, I-81 remains closed

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The lake-effect storm event that has pummeled Jefferson and Lewis counties for the past 24 hours has raised havoc with transportation across the region.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a state of emergency for several counties at 8 p.m. Monday in anticipation of the arrival of the worst of the storm, and the closure of Interstate 81 from Exit 31, Brewerton, to Exit 45, Watertown at Arsenal Street, went into effect then.

State Department of Transportation officials initally called it a “soft closing,” meaning that exits were not blocked. As a result, some traffic was on the road throughout the day Tuesday. Trooper Warren Johnson with state police in Watertown said some exits were blocked but not all them, and there was some traffic on the highway despite the closure.

However, Jefferson County Fire and Emergency Management Director Joseph D. Plummer said the soft closure was not successful in keeping drivers off the road, so the closure was changed to a hard closure Tuesday evening. The onramps were later barracaded from Exit 34 in Mexico up north to the Canadian border.

A multicar accident in the northbound lanes south of Exit 44, Watertown Center, and worsening conditions north of Watertown during the morning Tuesday led DOT to close the highway from the U.S.-Canadian border, a condition expected to last into today.

Travel on any road parallel to I-81 was difficult throughout the day as drivers sought an alternative north-south route. Between heavy snow buildup and intermittent but persistent whiteouts, speeds on Route 11 rarely reached 15 miles an hour, making travel to and from Watertown both tedious and dangerous.

Information on the storm is available online at: National Weather Service: http://wdt.me/Dzs7pV.

Information on road conditions is available at: http://511ny.org/mapview.aspx.

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