New York and Washington were among major American cities starting to clear up after 24 hours of white-out blizzard conditions buried them in near-record snow and caused 28 deaths.

Car accidents, slick roads and strong winds accounted for most of the deaths and injuries. Most of the victims were killed in car accidents in Arkansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and Tennessee.

Three people died while shovelling snow in Queens and Staten Island, while two died of hypothermia in Virginia. Authorities stated that most of the weather-related deaths were the result of car crashes.

A woman died when the car she was driving plunged down a 300ft (91m) embankment in Tennessee. Stacy Sherrill's husband, who was with her, survived but it took hours for him to struggle out of the embankment and report the accident.

A teenager in Ohio who was sledging behind a car was struck by a truck as it hit a red lit and killed, while a Kentucky transportation worker was killed while ploughing highways.

New York was brought to a standstill, with Central Park shrouded in 26.8in (68.1cm) of snow, the second-highest since 1869. Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York, who declared a state of emergency along with 10 other governors, said the storm had been "fast and furious".

Broadway was deserted as all shows were cancelled, with Bruce Springsteen calling off Sunday's scheduled show at Madison Square Garden.

The heaviest snowfall – 40in (101cm) – was recorded near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

As the storm moved out Sunday, NBC News said: "One in seven Americans could be under at least half a foot of snow, and Washington, DC could see snowdrifts more than 4 feet high".

The storm, dubbed Snowmageddon and Snowzilla on social media, is weakening and heading for the Atlantic Ocean. The extreme weather conditions are expected to affect about 85 million Americans — about 25% of all people living in the US. Before the snowstorm ends, it could cause more than $1bn (£700m, €930m) in damage, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

Around 7,000 flights were cancelled this weekend and disruption is set to continue into the beginning of the week, with at least 615 cancelled for Monday, 25 January.

Overall the cold snap affected some 85 million people, at one point cutting the power of 300,000 people. The heaviest fall was recorded in Glengary, West Virginia, which had 42in.