Blizzards strand thousands in US

Ap
Monday 27 December 2010 15:34
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A powerful East Coast blizzard menaced would-be travelers by air, rail and highway, 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, New Jersey, 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 7am local time 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.

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 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 up and down the East Coast.

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 (128 kph) knocked out power to thousands. Utilities reported about 30,000 customers were out in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, mostly 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.

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 up to 16 inches (40 centimeters) was expected across nearly all of Rhode Island, Connecticut and eastern Massachusetts, though forecasters said winds of 50 mph (80 kph) 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 (1.5-meter)-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.

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