Snow blizzard in eastern US causes travel chaos

Millions of Christmas travelers were caught in the wintry grip of a massive snow blizzard Monday that brought chaos to air, road and train transit across the eastern United States.

Just as passengers trapped by freezing weather in Europe began returning home as flights resumed normal service on Christmas Day, it was the turn of US travelers to face relentless snow, dangerous winds and unforgiving cold.

The inclement weather could not come at a worse time for millions of Americans who travel to see family or take holiday getaways during the Christmas week.

It was also compounding the misery for some flyers in Europe, where carriers including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic cancelled several US-bound flights on Sunday and were bracing passengers for further disruptions Monday.

The US railway service Amtrak said it was halting service between New York and Boston, and in the process stranded thousands of travelers during one of the heaviest travel seasons of the year.

"Due to the blizzard conditions affecting a good portion of the east coast, and presently affecting the New York and New England areas, Amtrak has canceled between Boston and New York tonight, December 26th, with no alternate transportation," the rail carrier said.

The storm also caused more than 1,000 flight cancellations, compounding the national travel chaos.

After record snowfalls last year, Washington and environs appeared likely to escape the worst weather this time around, with just a trace of snowfall expected.

But blizzard warnings were issued from coastal New England to New York City, where the massive storm was expected to dump as much as 20 inches (50 centimeters) of snow, accompanied by powerful wind gusts.

Boston, Massachusetts was forecast to receive up to 22 inches (55 centimeters) of the white stuff by Monday, with wind gusts as high as 45 miles (72 kilometers) per hour.

Nearly 60,000 Massachusetts residents are without power late Sunday after the storm plowed across the northeastern state, The Boston Globe reported.

State Governor Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency, warning the storm was "expected to produce widespread heavy snowfall, periods of zero visibility, high winds, power outages, coastal flooding, and beach erosion."

Heavy snow forced the National Football League to postpone an American football game for the second time in three weeks - this time for the Vikings-Eagles face-off in Philadelphia.

The inflatable roof of the Minnesota Vikings' Metrodome collapsed during the last major storm earlier this month.

Even Americans in the southern United States were treated to a very rare white Christmas: light to moderate snow blanketed communities in Alabama, Mississippi, and North Carolina. Atlanta, Georgia enjoyed its first white Christmas in 128 years.

Ice and snow snarled road traffic in several southeastern states, including Georgia's northern mountains.

Officials in eastern Canada said they also were bracing for the storm, which was expected to arrive in Nova Scotia sometime Monday.

The AAA, a membership association for US road travelers, estimated that 92.3 million Americans would travel 50 miles (80 kilometers) or more from home during the year-end holidays from December 23, 2010 to January 2, 2011.

Among those most likely to be inconvenienced are those whose plans included air travel.

Delta Air Lines said earlier Sunday it had cancelled some 850 flights: about one-sixth of its flights around the country.

Continental Airlines cancelled 265 departures, mainly from Newark Liberty International Airport outside New York. But it also warned that most domestic and international flights would be canceled through mid-morning Monday due to the disruption at its main hub.

United Airlines cancelled scores of flights in Boston, Philadelphia and the three main airports in the New York City area: Newark, LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International.

"We tried to pre-cancel as many flights as we could so customers wouldn't have to go to the airport only to find that their flight was canceled," United spokesman Mike Trevino told AFP.

US Airways has canceled a total of nearly 680 flights.