NEW YORK (AP) — They appeared to be scenes from a frozen apocalypse.
Streets across the nation's largest city were empty, the only movement the changing traffic lights signaling to cars that weren't there. The subway system was shuttered, the city's pulse rendered still. Hardy souls who braved the snow were threatened with fines or arrest.
And it could be the new normal.
Though the snowstorm largely missed New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio staunchly defended their unprecedented, stringent restrictions, both saying they believed in landing on the side of caution and suggesting they would take such measures again.
"Would you rather be ahead of the action or behind? Would you rather be prepared or unprepared? Would you rather be safe or unsafe?" de Blasio asked Tuesday at City Hall. "To me it was a no-brainer: we had to take precautions to keep people safe."
Before the heavy snows even reached New York, officials closed schools, shut down bridges and tunnels, canceled commuter rail service and, for the first time ever in a snowstorm, closed the city's sprawling subway system at 11 p.m. Monday. A travel ban was put in place and drivers caught out on the roads were subject to arrest.
Similar restrictions, previously unheard of, were put in place for a pair of hurricanes within the last five years.
But the meteorologists whose forecasts informed the region's actions this week were wrong. The storm, while powerful on Long Island and in New England, ended up leaving far less than a foot of snow in New York City. And the decision to lock down the city — particularly the decision to close the subways — drew significant criticism from some business owners and transit advocacy groups.
For both men, mistakes made during previous storms guided their decisions.
New York City was caught unprepared for a blizzard that arrived in December 2010 when then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg was out of town before the storm struck. It resulted in miles of unplowed roads, stranded ambulances and angry residents stuck in their homes for days.
After that debacle, Bloomberg ritualized a show of over-preparedness for future storms. A series of press conferences — held before, during, and after storms — were conducted in which the mayor, flanked by his commissioners, attempted to exude confidence by delivering an avalanche of statistics to display the city's readiness for the approaching snowstorm or hurricane. De Blasio has done the same, particularly after his administration stumbled on plowing for one storm early last year.
Cuomo acknowledged that his decision to act aggressively stems from the historic storm that blanketed Buffalo with seven feet of snow late last year.
"We make big decisions based on these weather forecasts," the governor said. "We decided not to close the roads in Buffalo ... and we had people stranded on the roads for 12, 15, 20 hours. You can have a significant loss of life in these situations."
There were no reported fatalities in New York City. The city did, however, lose about $200 million in economic activity due to the snow storm and decision to shut down the transit system, but it wasn't a crippling loss, according to a preliminary estimate from Moody's Analytics.
But while de Blasio and Cuomo defended their actions, their united front showed a few cracks. They never appeared at a joint press conference, which created the somewhat absurd sight Monday of the two men, who were just five miles apart, delivering similar information in separate press conferences within an hour of each other.
And on Tuesday, de Blasio revealed that his administration only received word that the subways — which are under the state's control — were being shut down mere minutes before Cuomo made the public announcement. He declined to second-guess the decision but made clear he wanted its repercussions studied.
"It was a very big move and certainly something we would have liked to have had more dialogue on," de Blasio told reporters. "I think that's a big decision, an unprecedented decision, that absolutely should be evaluated after the fact."
A fugitive treasure hunter embroiled in a legal fight over what's been described as the greatest lost treasure in American history has been arrested in Florida after more than two years on the lam, authorities said Wednesday.
The U.S. Marshals Service tracked Tommy Thompson to a hotel in Palm Beach County and arrested him Tuesday, said Brian Babtist, a senior inspector in the agency's office in Columbus, Ohio, where a federal civil arrest warrant was issued for him in 2012 for failing to show up to a key court hearing.
Babtist said Thompson was arrested along with his longtime companion, Alison Anteiker, and the two had been staying in a two-person suite at a Hilton in West Boca Raton for two years.
Thompson and Anteiker were awaiting a hearing in Florida before they would be extradited to Ohio, Babtist said.
Thompson made history in 1988 when he found the sunken S.S. Central America, also known as the Ship of Gold. In what was a technological feat at the time, Thompson and his crew brought up thousands of gold bars and coins from the shipwreck. Much of that was later sold to a gold marketing group in 2000 for about $50 million.
The 161 investors who paid Thompson $12.7 million to find the ship never saw returns from the sale. Two of them sued — a now-deceased investment firm president and the Dispatch Printing Company, which publishes The Columbus Dispatch newspaper and had invested about $1 million.
That legal battle is ongoing, and those close to Thompson say it was his undoing.
Gil Kirk, who heads a Columbus real estate firm and is a former director of one of Thompson's companies, told The Associated Press last year that Thompson never cheated anyone. Kirk said proceeds from the 2000 sale of the gold all went to legal fees and bank loans.
"He was a genius, and they've stolen his life," Kirk said of those who sued.
Thompson went into seclusion in 2006, moving into a mansion called Gracewood in Vero Beach, Florida. Six years later, after the arrest warrant was issued, Thompson vanished.
When the property's caretakers searched it soon afterward, they found prepaid disposable cellphones and bank wraps for $10,000 scattered about, along with a bank statement in the name of Harvey Thompson showing a $1 million balance, a real estate agent for the property said in court records. Harvey, according to friends, was Thompson's nickname in college.
Also found was a book called "How to Live Your Life Invisible." One marked page was titled: "Live your life on a cash-only basis."
Columbus attorney Rick Robol, who at one time defended Thompson's company, has said there's no proof Thompson stole anything. He said he's been concerned about Thompson's health, which is why he called the arrest "the best thing that can happen for everybody."
No criminal charges have been filed against Thompson, but Babtist said the treasure hunter will likely be ordered held in custody until he appears before an Ohio judge to give an accounting for the gold's sale and his actions.
"I don't imagine he's going to get any bond because he's already been a fugitive and knowingly evaded law enforcement," Babtist said. "I don't know what kind of means he has as far as money goes, but I'm sure they don't want to take any chances with him leaving the country or absconding again."
In one of the worst shipping disasters in American history, the S.S. Central America sank in a monster hurricane about 200 miles off the South Carolina coast in September 1857; 425 people drowned and thousands of pounds of California gold were lost, contributing to an economic panic.
Associated Press writer Andrew Welsh-Huggins contributed to this report from Columbus, Ohio.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist told an undercover FBI agent he could build 40 nuclear weapons for Venezuela in 10 years and design a bomb targeted for New York City.
In audio recordings played Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni tells an agent posing as a Venezuelan official that the bombs would prevent the United States from invading the socialist South American country.
Mascheroni said his New York bomb wouldn't kill anyone but would disable the city's electrical system and help Venezuela become a nuclear superpower.
The 79-year-old Mascheroni was sentenced Wednesday to five years in federal prison after pleading guilty in 2013 to offering to help develop nuclear weapons for Venezuela through dealings with the undercover agent.
ATLANTA (AP) — Baptist clergy members in Georgia are picking sides over a bill that supporters say protects religious freedom.
Opponents say the bill will lead to discrimination against LGBT people or members of other religious faiths. Both groups held events at the Georgia Capitol on Wednesday.
The bill's sponsor Rep. Sam Teasley is a Republican from Marietta. Teasley told reporters that he would not tweak the bill's language to specifically prevent corporations from using it. He says the bill mirrors a federal version.
Republican state Sen. Josh McKoon plans a similar bill. He says other lawmakers can propose specific anti-discrimination bills if they choose.
It's not clear how much support the bill has with General Assembly leaders. Republican House Speaker David Ralston has said he's not sure the bill is necessary.
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Executions are again on hold in Oklahoma after the U.S. Supreme Court granted the state's request to postpone lethal injections while justices review a challenge over the use of a particular sedative.
The court on Wednesday ordered Oklahoma to halt lethal injections after both the state and the lawyers for three inmates who faced execution between now and March requested the temporary stay.
The justices agreed Friday to consider the challenge to the use of the sedative midazolam, which has been used in problematic executions in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma.
Left open by Wednesday's order is the possibility that Oklahoma can carry out an execution that doesn't involve midazolam.
An Oklahoma Department of Corrections spokesman said Wednesday that the state has as yet been unable to find an alternative drug.
AUSTELL, Ga. (AP) — Police are awaiting autopsy results to determine how three children and their mother died in a suburban Atlanta apartment.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that investigators also planned to talk to officials at the children's elementary school and daycare as part of their investigation.
Cobb County police said in a statement that investigators believe 35-year-old Kisha S. Holmes killed her 9-month-old daughter, her 4-year-old son and her 10-year-old son before taking her own life.
All four were found dead inside their apartment in the Austell area Tuesday morning. Cobb County police spokesman Dana Pierce said the bodies were discovered by a maintenance worker who entered their apartment.
Police say the Cobb County Medical Examiner's Office is conducting autopsies to determine their manners and causes of death.