US snow storm strands buses, planes, trains

Updated: 2010-12-28 08:36


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NEW YORK - A powerful East Coast blizzard marooned thousands of would-be air, rail and road travelers Monday, shutting down major airports and rail lines for a second day, stranding buses on buried highways, and forcing New York City subway riders to spend a cold night in unheated trains.

US snow storm strands buses, planes, trains
Baggage waiting to be screened sits piled in a terminal at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey Dec 27, 2010. A blizzard pummeled the northeastern United States on Monday, burying cities in knee-deep snow, leaving thousands camped at airports and snarling traffic with blowing snow and icy roads at the end of the busy Christmas weekend. [Photo/Agencies]

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. More than 2 feet (0.6 meters) of snow had fallen in some areas by Monday morning.

The New York area took the brunt of a storm that meandered across the country over the Christmas weekend before plowing up the East Coast. States of emergency were declared in at least six states from the Carolinas on north. Jets got snowed in on the tarmac or never left the gate.

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"People are exhausted. ... They want to get home," said Eric Schorr, 22, who was trying to get from New York City to Tel Aviv on Sunday night but ended up spending about nine hours stuck on the tarmac at Kennedy Airport, finally ending back in the airport around 3 am local time. His flight was rescheduled for 7 pm.

Similar delays have produced outrage in the past, but Schorr said he and his fellow travelers were "as comfortable as you can be on a plane," with the crew passing out drinks and serving dinner.

All four runways at Philadelphia International Airport were open Monday, but most flights were canceled because of problems elsewhere. Airport spokeswoman Victoria Lupica said 600 flights -- or about 70 percent of those scheduled -- were canceled.

Authorities had to rescue hundreds of motorists across the region, including about 100 people trying to get back to New York from a gambling trip to Atlantic City, some of them diabetic or elderly. As 5-foot (1.5-meter) drifts piled up on the road, state troopers took water and food to passengers who were feeling ill.

"Most of the people are pretty calm, but they are getting antsy," state trooper Chris Menello, who raided his personal stash of food for the gamblers, said early Monday as the rescues unfolded in Monmouth County.

Wind gusts as high as 80 mph (128 kph) knocked out power to thousands. Airlines scrambled to rebook passengers on thousands of canceled flights but said they didn't expect normal service to resume until later in the week. Amtrak service was trickling back after being knocked out from New York to Boston.

Hundreds of cold, hungry and tired air passengers spent the night at Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports. Officials said they were provided blankets and cots, but some travelers were not allowed to retrieve their checked luggage, leaving them with no extra clothing or toiletries.

Jason Cochran, of Manhattan, boarded his flight to London at 6 pm Sunday at Kennedy, but it missed its takeoff window as high winds set in, he said. Passengers were told they would be sent to hotels but were given only food vouchers -- and then vendors began running out of provisions.

An airport McDonald's ran out of food, and he spent more than an hour in line at a KFC on an hour's sleep, he said.

Tall snowdrifts covered the landing gear of jets parked at the Newark airport. A truck with a snowplow moved across the tarmac, digging out a British Airways plane as passengers watched from the terminal.

In a baggage claim area, two pigeons walked among the sleeping passengers on the floor, looking for crumbs. Dozens of people lay on the floor of the concourse, leaning their heads against their luggage as they waited for ticket counters to open.

Not even New York City's subway system -- usually a reliable workhorse during a snow storm -- could withstand the blizzard. Some subway passengers were stranded for hours on trains that broke down overnight in Queens and finally pulled into a station by midday Monday.

Christopher Mullen, stranded aboard one train since 1 am, said conditions were frustrating.

"No food, no water. Cold. That's the main thing that's bothering everyone," Christopher Mullen told local cable news channel NY1.

At Jamaica Station on the Long Island Rail Road, the nation's largest commuter rail system, hundreds of people dozed in train cars frozen at the platform. Others lay like refugees at the entrance to the train link to Kennedy 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, cabs were little more than a myth and those who tried walking out of tveral seaside homes were flooded overnight by storm-driven waves, and two later caught fire. Firefighters rescued occupants of the burning homes by boat, said John Danehey, who is on the town's board of selectmen. No injuries were reported.

New England 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.

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.

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. In Newport, a tractor-trailer loaded with tree bark slid on slippery roads and careened into a home early Monday. No one was hurt.

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