Thousands of stranded passengers turn terminals into open-air hotels
NEW YORK: When Angela Madsen was pulled off her plane and her wheelchair stayed on board, she knew she was in for a rough night. The paraplegic athlete struggled to get into the bathrooms at Kennedy Airport. Turning the wheels on her borrowed wheelchair strained her shoulders. Sleeping was impossible.
"I actually got out of it and laid on the floor," Madsen said.
It was, she said, a miserable time - one that was shared by millions of people on Monday, in travails big and small, serious and surreal, after the blizzard of December 2010 sucker-punched the northeastern U.S. during one of the busiest travel days of the year.
Air travel in the nation's busiest, most crowded airspace nearly shut down, and thousands of stranded passengers turned terminals into open-air hotels while they waited for planes to take off and land on plowed runways.
A tractor-trailer skidded off a road and smashed into a house in Maine. A woman went into labor on a New Jersey highway, causing a traffic jam that stranded 30 vehicles. Rails on the normally reliable New York subway shorted out. Winds topping 65 mph ripped power lines, leaving tens of thousands of people in the dark across New England.
This storm simply didn't play fair, cold-cocking the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow on a holiday weekend when everyone seemed to be out of town, groggy with holiday cheer or just unprepared.
In New York, outer-borough residents complained of a sluggish response by snow plow crews who still hadn't finished clearing the streets. State Sen. Carl Kruger, a Democrat who represents Brooklyn, called the city's response a "colossal failure." Fire officials said the unplowed streets and abandoned cars made it harder to respond to emergencies, including a five-alarm, windwhipped blaze at a Queens apartment building Monday night. A testy Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the city's cleanup effort, saying the crews were being slowed down by abandoned cars on the streets. "There's no reason for everybody to panic," he said. "Our city is doing exactly what you'd want it to do."
After spending Sunday night tossing and turning on airport floors, thousands of bleary-eyed travelers spent Monday standing in lines, begging for flights, fighting for taxis and hunting for hotel rooms.
The storm wreaked havoc on almost every form of conveyance: from the buses at the nation's busiest terminal near Times Square to the region's usually punctual commuter trains. Little problems quickly snowballed: On New Jersey's Garden State Parkway, a motorist struggled to find the shoulder of the road after his wife went into labor, causing a traffic jam that eventually stranded 30 vehicles, state trooper Chris Menello said. Among them were two buses full of people returning from Atlantic City.
Two of New York's major airports - LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International - began to receive inbound flights on Monday night. Newark Liberty was expected to start receiving inbound flights early Tuesday. Nearly 1,500 total flights were canceled at all three airports.
"Everyone was clapping toward the end," said Patrick Wacker, 37, aboard an Air Canada flight from Toronto that was the first to land at LaGuardia at about 7:40 p.m. Monday. Wacker had been stranded in Toronto for a day while trying to get back to New York after visiting his parents in Frankfurt, Germany. -Ap
HOBART: In this photo, the 100-foot supermaxi Wild Oats XI sails past the Organ Pipes as she races towards Hobart to claim provisional line honors during the Rolex Sydney Hobart yacht race off Hobart. -Ap