East Coast storm strands travelers, vexes drivers
PROVIDENCE: A treacherous commute of lashing winds, slick streets and low visibility buffetted workers returning Monday to their postChristmas routines as a winter storm that dumped about a foot of snow on southern New England continued crawling 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 fatherin-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. -Ap