03/07/2012 05:12 EST | Updated 05/07/2012 05:12 EDT

Blizzard blows through eastern Newfoundland

A harsh winter storm pushed through Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula Wednesday, shutting down almost every public service and many businesses.

The blizzard, which was marked by winds that topped 100 km/h in many areas, caused white-outs, left heavy drifts on highways and closed schools. [MORE: Get full closure details from Storm Centre.]

Services were getting back to normal in the St. John's area late Wednesday morning, as plows cleared streets and offices re-opened.

The storm was expected to drop as much as 30 centimetres of snow, although winds made it seem much worse when they hit their peak early Wednesday morning.

"It's a nasty morning, there's no doubt about it," said CBC News reporter Cecil Haire after he had driven around the metro St. John's area.

"I've seen worse storms, in terms of accumulations ... But you often can't see five feet in front of you."

All public schools in the metropolitan St. John's area closed for the day, as well as some independent schools and Memorial University's main campus in St. John's.

The provincial government closed its offices for the morning, as did some federal offices and a wide number of businesses, including the Avalon Mall.

The storm, which swept in late Tuesday night, shut down flights at St. John's International Airport through the morning, and Metrobus — the public transit service in the St. John's area — kept its buses off the roads for almost all of Wednesday morning.

Many public services, from liquor stores to libraries and from courts to clinics, closed as road-clearing crews tried to keep up with the storm.

Ambulance gets stuck in St. John's drifts

Heavy drifting posed hazards for drivers. Among the vehicles that got stuck in the snow was an ambulance that had to be towed near an intersection along Empire Avenue in St. John's.

Environment Canada issued blizzard warnings that covered much of the eastern part of Newfoundland, as well as an additional winter storm warning that stretched as far as the Bonavista Peninsula.

"We've probably seen the very worst of it," Paul Greeley, an Environment Canada meteorologist based in Gander, told CBC News early Wednesday. Greeley said the storm's power should taper off through the morning, and conditions should improve significantly by early afternoon.

CBC meteorologist Ryan Snoddon said the storm dumped about 20 centimetres over the St. John's area in just seven hours.

Newfoundland Power dealt with isolated power outages in such areas as the Cowan Heights area of St. John's, Paradise, Conception Bay South and Portugal Cove South.