East Coast Blizzard Is One for the Record Books
Providence, R.I. (AP) - A treacherous commute of lashing winds, slick streets and low visibility buffeted workers returning Monday to their post-Christmas routines. A winter storm that dumped about a foot of snow on southern New England crawled up the East Coast, stranding thousands of airline, bus and rail passengers.
The blizzard conditions wreaked havoc on travelers from the Carolinas to Maine, forced the suspension of operations at some of the nation's busiest airports and marooned a passenger bus carrying about 50 people, some with diabetes, on a New Jersey highway.
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 nation's largest commuter rail system, New York's Long Island Rail Road, 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.
In Monmouth County, N.J., snow drifts of up to five feet contributed to stalling a passenger bus on the Garden State Parkway, where snow plows were having a difficult time cleaning because there were so many stranded cars cluttering the ramps, state police spokesman Steve Jones said. Ambulances couldn't reach the bus, and state troopers were carrying their own water and food to the bus to give to people who were feeling ill, he said.
The state police's superintendent, Col. Rick Fuentes, toured parts of the state in a four-wheel-drive vehicle to assess the conditions of the roadways and pleaded with people to stay home.
Emergency room nurse Tiffany Lema at Newport Hospital in Rhode Island said her normally 45-minute commute from Cranston, just south of Providence, was an awful two hours, made all the more harrowing when her husband's truck couldn't get up and over the Newport Bridge. They made a U-turn and parked near an E-ZPass electronic toll payment office, where her father-in-law picked her up and drove her the rest of the way.
"I wasn't going to jump out at any point, so we just turned it around. It was kind of scary," said Lema, who planned to spend the night at the hospital with other nurses. "You could see the car in front of you but not over the hill, not over the bridge."
A blizzard warning, which is issued when snow is accompanied by sustained winds or gusts over 35 mph, 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.
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.
State police in Rhode Island responded to several snow-related car accidents, including at least two rollovers, but no serious injuries were reported.
Air carriers began canceling flights on Saturday and warned that more cancellations were likely Monday. Operations were suspended Sunday at New York's John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports and at New Jersey's Newark Liberty International Airport.
Delta Air Lines Inc., which has canceled 850 flights and expected cancellations Monday in New York and Boston, said it hoped to be back to normal by Tuesday morning, while United Airlines said it could add more flights Monday to accommodate stranded passengers.
Before any snow accumulated in Philadelphia, the NFL moved the Philadelphia Eagles' game against the Minnesota Vikings from Sunday night to Tuesday because of "public safety concerns." Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who does football commentaries after Eagles games, wasn't amused and said fans could have handled it.
"This is football; football's played in bad weather," Rendell told KYW-TV. "I, for one, was looking forward to sitting in the stands throughout the snow and seeing an old-time football game."
After he said that, slightly less than a foot of snow fell on the City of Brotherly Love.
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-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. Not that Mayor Michael Bloomberg wanted people to use them.
"I understand that a lot of families need to get home after a weekend away, but please don't get on the roads unless you absolutely have to," Bloomberg said.
In Rhode Island, emergency officials encouraged businesses to let employees report to work late Monday, saying road conditions for the morning commute would be treacherous.
"You don't want to get your employees hurt," said Steve Kass, a spokesman for the state Emergency Management Agency. "The roads are not going to be good, that's for sure."
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.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Sara Kugler Frazier in New York City; Geoff Mulvihill in Cherry Hill, N.J.; Tim Jacobs in Newark, N.J.; Ron Todt in Philadelphia; Page Ivey in Columbia, R.I.; Jacquelyn Martin and Norm Gomlak in Washington; Ben Nuckols in Baltimore; Bradley Klapper in Washington, D.C.; John Raby in Charleston, W.Va., and Beth DeFalco in Jackson, N.J.