Blizzard maroons thousands in Northeast

Snow-removal crews plow runways at Philadelphia International Airport. A foot of snow fell in the city and in Virginia's Tidewater region.
Snow-removal crews plow runways at Philadelphia International Airport. A foot of snow fell in the city and in Virginia's Tidewater region. (Matt Rourke)
By Deepti Hajela and Meghan Barr
Tuesday, December 28, 2010

NEW YORK - Thousands of travelers trying to get home after the holiday weekend sat bored and bleary-eyed in airports and shivered aboard stuck buses and subway trains Monday, stranded by a blizzard that slammed the Northeast with more than two feet of show.

Planes began landing again Monday night at two of the nation's busiest airports - John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport. Flights were expected to begin arriving at Newark Liberty International Airport later in the evening. Flights at all three of the city's airports were grounded Sunday.

The storm walloped the Northeast on Sunday, stymieing most means of transportation. Flights were grounded. Buses sputtered to a halt in snow drifts. Trains stopped in their tracks. Taxi drivers abandoned their cabs in the middle of New York's snow-clogged streets. Even the New York City subway system - usually dependable during a snowstorm - broke down in spots, trapping riders for hours.

The storm worked its way up the coast from the Carolinas to Maine with winds up to 80 mph, whirling the snow into deep drifts across streets, railroad tracks and runways. Snowfall totals included a foot in Virginia's Tidewater region and Philadelphia; 29 inches in parts of northern New Jersey; two feet in areas north of New York City; and more than 18 inches in Boston.

Some airline passengers could be stuck for days. Many planes are booked solid because of the busy holiday season, and airlines are operating fewer flights because of the economic downturn.

"People are exhausted. They want to get home," said Eric Schorr, marooned at New York's Kennedy Airport since Sunday afternoon.

Cold, hungry and tired passengers spent the night in airports, train stations and bus depots. Some were given cots and blankets. Others used their luggage as pillows or made beds by curling into chairs, spreading towels on the floor or overturning the plastic bins used for sending items through airport security.

As bad as the storm was, it could have been worse if it had been an ordinary work day. Children are home from school all week on Christmas vacation, and lots of people took off from work.

Many youngsters went out and frolicked in the snow, some of them using the sleds they got for Christmas.

Many side streets in New York City remained unplowed well into the day, and pedestrians stumbled over drifts and trudged through knee-deep snow in some places. Many people simply gave up trying to use the sidewalks, instead walking down the middle of partially plowed streets.

A testy Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) defended the city's cleanup crews, saying the furious pace of the snowfall - two to three inches per hour - required crews to plow streets repeatedly to keep them open. And abandoned cars slowed the process further, because plows could not get through, he said.

"It's being handled by the best professionals in the business," Bloomberg said. "It's a snowstorm, and it really is inconvenient for a lot of people."

In New York, many stranded airline passengers who were tired of waiting around couldn't have left even if they wanted to. Taxis were hard to find, and many airport shuttles and trains were also a lost cause.

"There's literally no way to leave," said Jason Cochran of New York City, stuck at Kennedy.

- Associated Press

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