A blizzard pummeled the north-eastern United States on Monday, burying cities in knee-deep snow, leaving thousands camped at airports and snarling traffic with blowing snow and icy roads at the end of the busy Christmas weekend.
New York City and surrounding areas were the hardest hit by the storm, which swept up the Atlantic Coast on Sunday night and continued up to the Monday morning commute, unleashing powerful winds that gusted up to 95km/h and bringing cities to a halt.
At least a dozen traffic fatalities in several states were attributed to the treacherous road conditions.
Financial markets operated normally although trading volumes were thinned by the storm, which also kept shoppers away from the malls on the day after Christmas, one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
Authorities shut down New York’s three major airports and others in the north-east for nearly 24 hours, cancelling thousands of flights and stranding passengers in terminals that were cut off for hours from trains and taxis, with food and information in short supply.
After a busy day plowing and melting snow with heavy equipment, airport authorities reopened John F Kennedy, Newark Liberty and La Guardia airports to departing flights only, a Port Authority spokesperson said. La Guardia was likely to start receiving flights on Monday night and the others on Tuesday morning.
As the storm moved into Canada, the sun broke through on the US East Coast, but massive piles of snow could take days to melt. Temperatures were not expected to climb above freezing for a sustained period until later in the week.
Tens of thousands of homes lost power throughout the north-east. But true to the refrain that “the show must go on,” Broadway shows promised to perform as scheduled on Monday.
Air traffic snarled
Major airlines including Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Continental Airlines and United Airlines canceled large numbers of flights.
“Here there are maybe 200 folding cots for 1 000 people,” traveller Lance Jay Brown (67) said from John F Kennedy Airport’s Terminal 8. “I paid $50 for three hot chocolates, a couple of candy bars and two sandwiches, and I was happy to get a sandwich. There are dozens of people twisted out of shape with frustration.”
One caller seeking to reschedule a flight on US Airways was told by an automated phone message: “Your wait time is now 170 minutes.”
Many offices closed for business, including the United Nations, which cancelled all events at its New York headquarters.
After 17 hours of snowfall dropped 50cm on New York’s Central Park, the city was covered. Snow drifts piled 90 to 150cm in some areas and giant mounds accumulated on the sidewalks where snow plows cleared the streets.
Similar snowfalls were reported throughout the Atlantic Coast, and totals reached as high as 74cm in New Jersey.
“I’m just stunned by the power of nature,” said Cheri Geckler, a neuropsychologist who was feeding animals at a stable in Lincoln, Massachusetts. “I worry about the impact on the human infrastructure and the livestock that we all depend on.”
Skies started clearing just before the morning commute, providing ideal play conditions and an extra treat for children who either had class canceled or were on holiday from school.
New York City subway traffic was sporadic and the commuter rails connecting the city to the suburbs were suspended for varying periods of time.
One New York subway train was stuck on a frozen track for seven hours before the passengers were rescued. Hundreds of buses got stuck and dozens more were stranded.
“The phone here is ringing off the hook. It’s really difficult — we’re trying to deploy all of our equipment and right now it’s just a question of digging out and getting things back to normal safely and reliably,” said Dierdre Parker, a spokesperson for New York City’s transit authority.
Amtrak passenger rail service between New York and Boston was suspended on Sunday night and resumed with a limited schedule on Monday.
The New England states were also buried in snow. In Boston, only essential city employees were asked to report to work.
“I can’t even find the sidewalk,” said Marilyn Westgate (44) of Belmont, Massachusetts, as she shovelled snow on her corner lot. “I don’t even think about the time. I just do it.” – Reuters