NEW YORK — Planes began landing again Monday at one of the nation’s busiest airports after a blizzard clobbered the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow and closed the New York metropolitan area’s three airports, stranding thousands of travelers trying to get home after the holidays.
A Royal Jordanian flight was the first to arrive at John F. Kennedy International Airport, shortly before 7 p.m., said Steve Coleman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airports. Flights were expected to begin arriving at Newark and LaGuardia airports later in the evening.
Vikki Walker, 24, and her boyfriend, Kevin Berryman, 26, were among those in line at a security checkpoint at LaGuardia. They had been in New York for Christmas and were trying to get home to Halifax. They originally planned to fly out of Newark on Monday morning and said they had been rebooked four times before getting seats on the flight out of LaGuardia.
“It feels incredible. Hopefully it will work out, though,” Walker said. “I don’t want to get my hopes too high.”
The storm, which worked its way up the coast from the Carolinas to Maine with winds up to 80 mph that whirled the snow into deep drifts, walloped the Northeast on Sunday, stymieing most means of transportation. Flights were grounded. Buses sputtered to a halt in snowdrifts. Trains stopped in their tracks. Taxi drivers abandoned their cabs in the middle of New York’s snow-clogged streets. Even the New York City subway system — usually dependable during a snowstorm — broke down in spots, trapping riders for hours.
Snowfall totals included a foot in Tidewater, Va., and Philadelphia, 29 inches in parts of northern New Jersey, 2 feet north of New York City, and more than 18 inches in Boston.
States of emergency, which generally endow government officials with special powers to expedite storm recovery, were declared in states including North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Maine and Massachusetts.
In coastal Scituate, Mass., several seaside homes were flooded overnight by storm-driven waves, and two later caught fire. Firefighters rescued occupants of the burning homes by boat, said John Danehey, who is on the town’s Board of Selectmen. No injuries were reported.
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. In Newport, a tractor-trailer loaded with tree bark slid on slippery roads and careened into a home early Monday. No one was hurt.
Cold, hungry and tired passengers spent the night in airports, train stations and bus depots. Some were given cots and blankets. Others used their luggage as pillows, curled into chairs, or made beds by spreading towels on the floor or overturning the plastic bins used for sending items through airport security.
Some airline passengers could be stuck for days. Many planes are booked solid because of the busy holiday season, and airlines are operating fewer flights because of the economic downturn.
As bad as the storm was, it could have been worse if it had been an ordinary workday. Children are home from school all week on Christmas vacation, and lots of people had taken time off from work.
Many youngsters went out and frolicked in the snow, some of them using the sleds they got for Christmas.
Many side streets in New York City remained unplowed well into the day, and pedestrians stumbled over drifts and trudged through knee-deep snow in some places. Numerous people simply gave up trying to use the sidewalks, instead walking down the middle of partially plowed streets. Some New Yorkers complained that snowplow crews were neglecting neighborhoods in the outer boroughs in favor of Manhattan.
A testy Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the city’s cleanup effort, saying the furious pace of the snowfall — 2 to 3 inches per hour — required crews to plow streets repeatedly to keep them open. And abandoned cars slowed the process further because plows could not get through, he said.
“It’s being handled by the best professionals in the business,” Bloomberg said, urging people not to get upset. “It’s a snowstorm, and it really is inconvenient for a lot of people.”
At the Manchester Boston Regional Airport outside Manchester, N.H., 25-year-old Alicia Kinney slept overnight on benches in the baggage claim area before moving to the food court for a soda in the morning.
“I’m trying to stay positive,” she said.
The blizzard had a ripple effect on air travel, stranding thousands of people at airports around the country.
“I know the Northeast was hit by snow. I get it. But still, this is Monday and I still haven’t gotten a flight yet,” said Sam Rogers, who had planned to fly back to New York on Sunday after visiting his brother in Charlotte, N.C., for the holiday. He was supposed to be back Monday at the mortgage company where he works, but no one was answering the phone at his office. “I guess they took a snow day, too.”
In New York, many passengers tired of waiting around couldn’t have left even if they wanted to. Taxis were hard to find, and many airport shuttles and trains were also a lost cause.
“There’s literally no way to leave,” said Jason Cochran of New York City, stuck at Kennedy.
Yoann Uzan of France, on a first-ever trip to New York City with his girlfriend, said their airline had promised to put passengers up at hotels overnight. “But we waited for the shuttle buses to take us there, and then the buses couldn’t get through because of the weather, so we were stuck here,” he said.
Passengers stuck at New York City’s main bus terminal — where all service was canceled — tried to get some shuteye as they awaited word on when buses might start rolling again.
“It’s really, really cold here,” said 12-year-old Terry Huang. “The luggage was really hard to sleep on. It was hard and lumpy.”
Two passenger buses headed back to New York City from the Atlantic City, N.J., casinos became stuck on New Jersey’s Garden State Parkway. State troopers, worried about diabetics aboard, brought water and food as emergency workers worked to free the vehicles.
In Virginia, the National Guard had to rescue three people trapped in a car for more than four hours in the Eastern Shore area.
Not even professional hockey players could beat the frozen conditions. The Toronto Maple Leafs, after defeating the New Jersey Devils 4-1 in Newark, N.J., got stuck in traffic for four hours on their way to the team hotel. It was supposed to be a 20-minute ride. Center Tyler Bozak tweeted in one middle-of-the-night dispatch: “Roads closed in new jersey stuck on the bussss. Brutaallll!!”
Christopher Mullen was among the New York City subway riders stranded for several hours aboard a cold train Monday. “I just huddled with my girlfriend. We just tried to stay close,” he said.
The train was stopped by snowdrifts on the tracks and ice on the electrified third rail. It took hours to rescue the passengers because crews first tried to push the train, and when that didn’t work, a snow-covered diesel locomotive had to be dug out of a railyard and brought in to move it.
Getting around cities in the Northeast was an adventure. In one Brooklyn neighborhood, cars drove the wrong way up a one-way street because it was the only plowed thoroughfare in the area. In Philadelphia, pedestrians dodged chunks of ice blown off skyscrapers.
New York taxi driver Shafqat Hayat spent the night in his cab on 33rd Street in Manhattan, unable to move his vehicle down the unplowed road. “I’ve seen a lot of snow before, but on the roads, I’ve never seen so many cars stuck in 22 years,” he said.
Hajela reported from Fort Lee, N.J. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Glen Johnson in Haverhill, Mass.; David Sharp in Portland, Maine; Leon Drouin-Keith, Meghan Barr, Sara Kugler Frazier, Samantha Gross, Karen Matthews, Adam Pemble and David Porter in New York; Eric Tucker in Providence, R.I.; Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia; Geoff Mulvihill in Haddonfield, N.J.; Chris Hawley in Newark, N.J.; George Walsh in Albany, N.Y.; and Bruce Shipkowski in Trenton, N.J.