N.Y. airports stay closed as storm batters east coast

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A treacherous East Coast storm bringing lashing winds, heavy snow and low visibility buffetted workers trying to return to their post-Christmas routines Monday and left thousands of holiday travelers stranded away from home, as major airports and rail lines remained closed for a second day.

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 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. The conditions also were blamed for a fatal car crash in Maine.

Philadelphia cab driver Farid Senoussaoui, 33, described the slippery driving conditions as “like a video game.”

“You’ve got to be more careful,” he said.

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.

New York City’s John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports remain closed Monday. Boston’s Logan International Airport was open — but it was nearly abandoned, without flights coming in or out.

Wind gusts of up to 130 km/h 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 Richard Folsom, 59, of Wells, died several hours after his pickup crashed into a tree during whiteout conditions Sunday night.

Peter Iarossi, a train conductor for MBCR, which operates commuter rail trains for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, saw his normal 15-minute commute stretch to an hour because of the blizzard conditions.

He woke up extra early and was sitting in his idling car at the railyard an hour before his 6:45 a.m. train was to leave to start its run to Boston.

“You’re here to bring the people to Boston,” Iarossi said. “You don’t have an option. People count on you—especially in bad weather.”

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.

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 55 km/h 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 50 to 100 mm an hour. A total of 30 to 40 cm was expected across nearly all of Rhode Island, Connecticut and eastern Massachusetts, though forecasters said winds of 80 km/h 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-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 10,000 kilometres 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.

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