Major airports start to clear backlog after thousands stranded by snow

New Yorkers struggled to get back to normal yesterday after the sixth-biggest snowstorm in the city's history, while thousands of stranded travellers hoped finally to board long-delayed flights after a blizzard buried the US north-east.

An eerie quiet hung over the city and its largely empty streets, many still unploughed, and crippled commuter rail services struggled to resume regular operations after the storm dumped 20 inches over a 17-hour period on Sunday and Monday.

Boston, Philadelphia and other cities on the Atlantic coast also got pummelled with similar snowfall and crept back to life after an extended holiday hiatus when rubbish went uncollected, offices stayed shut and shoppers stayed home on what normally is one of the busiest retail days of the year.

With 4,500 flights cancelled or delayed on Sunday and Monday in New York's three major airports alone, tens of thousands of passengers camped out in terminals. Airlines could need another day or two to work through the backlog, officials said.

True to character, New Yorkers complained about storm relief while the city's fleet of 2,000 snow-ploughing trucks struggled to clear major arteries, secondary streets feeding those avenues, and smaller side streets.