East Coast storm strands travelers, vexes drivers

Associated Press
Buried cars shine as the sun rises in New York Monday, Dec. 27, 2010, in the wake of a blizzard that hammered the city and much of the Northeast. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
.

View gallery

Hundreds of passengers are stuck at airports up and down the East Coast as a blizzard menaces travelers trying to get home after the holidays.

Major airports and rail lines are closed for a second day around the region.

Port Authority of New York and New Jersey spokesman Steve Coleman says hundreds of passengers at John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports are being provided blankets and cots.

The airports are expected to reopen sometime late Monday afternoon.

A blizzard warning was in effect early Monday from Delaware to the far northern tip of Maine.

Officials are urging anyone who doesn't have to drive to stay off roads in the region, where high winds pushed snow into deep drifts across streets, railroads and runways.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

NEW YORK (AP) — A powerful East Coast blizzard menaced would-be travelers by air, rail and highway Monday, leaving thousands without a way to get home after the holidays and shutting down major airports and rail lines for a second day.

Officials urged anyone who did not have to drive to stay off roads in the region, where high winds pushed snow into deep drifts across streets, railroads and runways. Nearly a foot and a half of snow was expected to fall by the time the storm wore out later in the day.

In Monmouth County, N.J., state troopers carried water and food to diabetics marooned on two passenger buses carrying about 50 people on the Garden State Parkway, where stranded cars cluttering ramps stymied snow plows and ambulances, state police spokesman Steve Jones told NBC's "Today" show. One bus was freed by 7 a.m. and the other was expected to be out soon, he said. Passengers reported no major medical problems.

In New York City, hundreds of travelers dozed Monday in Long Island Rail Road train cars frozen at the platform. Others lay like refugees at the entrance to the train link to Kennedy Airport and stood helpless at the ticket office, waiting in vain for good news to flash on the schedule screens. Hours went by without a single train leaving with passengers.

Buses were knocked out as well, cabs were little more than a myth and those who tried walking out of the station were assailed with a hard, frigid wind that made snowflakes sting like needles.

"They tried, but they can't do much with this snow. It's just not stopping," said Sharray Jones, 20, headed home to Long Island after visiting friends.

In Philadelphia, cab driver Farid Senoussaoui, 33, described navigating the slippery conditions as "like a video game." Senoussaoui had worked overnight during the storm and said passengers were universally grateful when he would stop to pick them up.

"The first word you hear is, 'Thank you very much," Senoussaoui said.

In New England, many commuters appeared to be heeding the call to stay off the roads. In greater Boston, highways into the city were nearly abandoned early Monday as many workers were given the day off and others were on vacation for the holiday week.

The blizzard-like conditions wreaked havoc on travelers from the Carolinas to Maine.

Airlines scrambled to rebook passengers on thousands of canceled flights — more than 1,400 out of the New York City area's three major airports alone — but said they didn't expect normal service to resume until Tuesday. Amtrak canceled train service from New York to Maine after doing the same earlier for several trains in Virginia.

The Long Island Rail Road, the nation's largest commuter rail system, also suspended service. Bus companies canceled routes up and down the East Coast, and drivers faced hazardous travel conditions — sometimes with close to zero visibility.

New York City's John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports remain closed Monday, as was northern New Jersey's Newark Liberty International Airport. A spokesman said Boston's Logan International Airport could take days to get back to normal.

Wind gusts of up to 80 mph knocked out power to thousands. Utilities reported about 30,000 customers were out in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, mostly on Cape Cod and south of Boston.

In Wells, Maine, police say a 59-year-old man died several hours after his pickup crashed into a tree during whiteout conditions Sunday night.

Peter Iarossi, a train conductor for MBCR, which operates commuter rail trains for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, saw his normal 15-minute commute stretch to an hour because of the blizzard conditions.

He woke up extra early and was sitting in his idling car at the railyard an hour before his 6:45 a.m. train was to leave to start its run to Boston.

"You're here to bring the people to Boston," Iarossi said. "You don't have an option. People count on you — especially in bad weather."

Emergency room nurse Tiffany Lema, at Newport Hospital in Rhode Island, said her normally 45-minute commute from Cranston, just south of Providence, was an awful two hours, made all the more harrowing when her husband's truck couldn't get up and over the Newport Bridge. They made a U-turn and parked near an E-ZPass electronic toll payment office, where her father-in-law picked her up and drove her the rest of the way.

"I wasn't going to jump out at any point, so we just turned it around. It was kind of scary," said Lema, who planned to spend the night at the hospital with other nurses. "You could see the car in front of you but not over the hill, not over the bridge."

A blizzard warning, which is issued when snow is accompanied by sustained winds or gusts over 35 mph for three hours, was in effect early Monday from Delaware to the far northern tip of Maine. The storm was expected to bring its heaviest snowfall in the pre-dawn hours Monday, sometimes dumping 2 to 4 inches an hour. A total of 12 to 16 inches was expected across nearly all of Rhode Island, Connecticut and eastern Massachusetts, though forecasters said winds of 50 mph could create much deeper snow drifts.

States of emergency were declared in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Maine and Massachusetts, where Gov. Deval Patrick urged people who did not have to be on the roads to stay home, to ensure their safety and that of work crews. Nonessential state workers were told to stay home Monday.

In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino declared a snow emergency that bans parking on all major streets, and the New England Aquarium bubble-wrapped its four 5-foot-tall penguin ice sculptures to protect them from the wind and snow.

More than 2,400 sanitation workers were working in 12-hour shifts to clear New York City's 6,000 miles of streets.

The monster storm is the result of a low pressure system off the North Carolina coast and strengthened as it moved northeast, the National Weather Service said. Because of it, parts of the South had their first white Christmas since records have been kept.

___

Johnson reported from Haverhill, Mass. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers David Sharp in Portland, Maine; Leon Drouin-Keith in New York; Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia; and Bruce Shipkowski in Trenton, N.J.

View Comments (0)