The Associated Press December 27, 2010, 12:00PM ET

East Coast blizzard cripples travel, strands many

A powerful East Coast blizzard menaced would-be travelers by air, rail and highway Monday, leaving thousands without a way to get home after the holidays and shutting down major airports and rail lines for a second day.

Buses were stranded on snowed-in highways and passengers in New York City spent a cold night stuck in an unheated subway train.

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 two feet of snow had fallen in some areas by Monday morning.

Eric Schorr, 22, was trying to get from New York City to Tel Aviv Sunday night, but ended up spending about 9 hours stuck on the tarmac at Kennedy Airport.

The junior at Columbia University said he and fellow passengers were "as comfortable as you can be on a plane," adding the crew was "phenomenal" and passed out drinks and served dinner to keep spirits up.

"It wasn't as tense as you might have thought," Schorr said by phone from the airport.

He said passengers boarded the El-Al flight around 5:30 p.m., and wound up back inside the airport around 3 a.m. Monday, where people set up camp on the floor and others slept on chairs.

"People are exhausted ... they want to get home," he said. His flight was rescheduled for 7 p.m. Monday.

In Monmouth County, N.J., state troopers brought 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 7 a.m. and the other was expected to be out soon, he said.

"Most of the people are pretty calm, but they are getting antsy," said New Jersey State Police Trooper Chris Menello, who along with his fellow troopers raided their personal stash of food to bring to the passengers.

In New York City, hundreds of cold, hungry and tired passengers were stranded overnight at John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports. Officials said they were being provided blankets and cots, but some would-be travelers were not allowed to retrieve their checked luggage, leaving them with no extra clothing or toiletries.

"When people start to get hungry you're going to see tempers flare," said Jason Cochran, of Manhattan, who has been stuck at Kennedy Airport since he arrived for his 6 p.m. Sunday flight to London.

He said his flight boarded and passengers were hopeful they were taking off, but de-icing the plane took some time and by then, the wind started and it was too late. The plane eventually went back to the gate. He said passengers were told they would be sent to hotels, but that never happened and were given food vouchers. However, Cochran said vendors were running out of provisions.

He posted to his Twitter account that McDonald's ran out of food by Monday morning, and he was standing in line at KFC for over an hour "with an hour's sleep."

At Newark airport, tall snowdrifts covered the landing gear of Continental jets. 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 the reliable workhorse during a snow storm -- could withstand the storm. Some subway passengers were stranded for hours on trains that broke down in Queens.

Christopher Mullen, stranded aboard one train since 1 a.m., said conditions were extremely frustrating.

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

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.

"They tried, but they can't do much with this snow. It's just not stopping," said Sharray Jones, 20, headed home to Long Island after visiting friends.

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 12 to 16 inches was expected across nearly all of Rhode Island, Connecticut and eastern Massachusetts, though forecasters said winds of 50 mph could create much deeper snow drifts.

Almost 30 inches of snow fell in Bergen County, N.J., by Monday morning, and 20 inches was reported in New York City's Central Park early Monday.

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.

A state of emergency was declared in a coastal Massachusetts town where several seaside homes were flooded overnight and two later caught fire.

Firefighters rescued occupants of the burning homes by boat in the town of Scituate, said John Danehey, who is on the town's board of selectmen. No injuries were reported.

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.

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.

The blizzard-like conditions wreaked havoc on travelers from the Carolinas to Maine.

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 Boston after doing the same earlier for several trains in Virginia.

Wind gusts of up to 80 mph knocked out power to thousands. Utilities reported about 30,000 customers were out in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, mostly on Cape Cod and 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.

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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Johnson reported from Haverhill, Mass. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers David Sharp in Portland, Maine; Leon Drouin-Keith in New York; Eric Tucker in Providence, R.I.; Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia; Stephanie Reitz in Glastonbury, Conn.; Deepti Hajela in Fort Lee, N.J.; and Bruce Shipkowski in Trenton, N.J.


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