Travel chaos continues in snow hit United States

Stranded passengers turned terminals into open-air hotels as they waited for planes to take off and land on plowed runways after a massive blizzard sucker-punched the northeastern US during one of the busiest travel days of the year.

Air travel in the nation's busiest, most crowded airspace nearly shut down completely after the storm socked the Northeast with more than 2 feet (0.6 meters) of snow on a holiday weekend when Americans all seemed to be traveling or just unprepared.

A tractor-trailer skidded off a road and smashed into a house in Maine. A woman went into labor on a New Jersey highway, causing a traffic jam that stranded 30 vehicles. Rails on the normally reliable New York subway shorted out. Winds topping 65 mph (105 kph) ripped power lines, leaving tens of thousands of people in the dark across New England.

The backlog of canceled flights could take days to untangle. Two of New York's major airports — LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International — began to receive inbound flights on Monday night, while Newark began receiving inbound flights this morning. Nearly 1,500 total flights were canceled at all three airports.

"Everyone was clapping toward the end," said Patrick Wacker, 37, aboard an Air Canada flight from Toronto that was the first to land at LaGuardia at about 7:40 p.m. local time Monday. Wacker had been stranded in Toronto for a day while trying to get back to New York after visiting his parents in Frankfurt, Germany.

In New York, outer-borough residents complained of a sluggish response by snow plow crews who still hadn't finished clearing the streets. State Sen. Carl Kruger, a Democrat who represents Brooklyn, called the city's response a "colossal failure." Fire officials said the unplowed streets and abandoned cars made it harder to respond to emergencies, including a five-alarm, wind-whipped blaze at a Queens apartment building Monday night.

A testy Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the city's cleanup effort, saying the crews were being slowed down by abandoned cars on the streets.

"There's no reason for everybody to panic," he said. "Our city is doing exactly what you'd want it to do."

After spending Sunday night tossing and turning on airport floors, thousands of bleary-eyed travelers spent Monday standing in lines, begging for flights, fighting for taxis and hunting for hotel rooms.

The storm wreaked havoc on almost every form of conveyance: from the buses at the nation's busiest terminal near Times Square to the region's usually punctual commuter trains.

Little problems quickly snowballed: On New Jersey's Garden State Parkway, a motorist struggled to find the shoulder of the road after his wife went into labor, causing a traffic jam that eventually stranded 30 vehicles, state trooper Chris Menello said.

Across the region, the storm's aftermath was punctuated by surreal moments, like the sight of Adrian Traylor, 29, roaming the Newark airport terminal in a Scottish kilt and bare legs as subfreezing winds howled outside.

Traylor, who lives in Scotland, was on his way to visit relatives in Las Vegas and said he wore the kilt to impress his family.

"I didn't think I'd be wearing it this long," he said.

Christopher Mullen returned from sunny Cancun, Mexico, to find his car buried in the snow in long-term parking at New York's Kennedy airport. After trying to dig it out and getting soaked in the process, he finally gave up and took the subway — which promptly broke down.

Mullen and his girlfriend spent eight hours in a freezing subway car, shivering under a thin blanket.

The storm was New York City's sixth worst since 1869, when records began, said Adrienne Leptich, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

A Feb. 11-12, 2006, storm dropped 26.9 inches (68.3 centimeters) of snow on Central Park, breaking the previous record, set in 1947, by half an inch (12.7 centimeters). The storm that hit the city Sunday left 20 inches (51 centimeters) of snow in Central Park.

The storm spared no one, not even men who travel on ice for a living. A bus carrying the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team got stuck in the blizzard for four hours while trying to return to their hotel after a game against the New Jersey Devils. And, members of the U.S. luge team lost two days of training after they were stranded on their way to Koenigssee, Germany.

In Philadelphia, pedestrians dodged chunks of ice blown off skyscrapers.

Some travelers tried to make the best of it. At the Newark airport, Frank Mann, his son 9-year-old son Stephen and his girlfriend Jackie Douglas said their night on the terminal floor was sort of like taking a camping trip.

They made beds out of luggage trays turned upside down, ate hot dogs from the snack bar and even did some bird-watching: pigeons seeking refuge from the elements were taking baths in puddles of water dripping from the ceiling.

When things got boring, Stephen pulled out his Kindle to finish a book he had started before getting stranded.

The book was about another youngster stranded far from home by bad weather: L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.