Millions of people snowed in by East Coast storm slog back to work, travel delays easeBy Larry Neumeister, AP
Monday, December 21, 2009
Storm-struck East returns to work, air delays ease
NEW YORK — Millions of East Coast commuters returned to work Monday over slick roads and icy sidewalks and after a weekend winter storm dropped record snowfall and interrupted holiday shopping and travel.
Airport delays eased and travelers stranded by canceled flights were finally getting off the ground, but there were worries that weekend problems could cause ripples that would be felt during the Christmas rush.
The storm crept up the coast on Saturday and Sunday, walloping states from the mid-Atlantic to New England, causing widespread power outages and treacherous driving conditions. The weather was blamed for at least seven deaths, including a snowmobile driver who crashed head-on into a horse-drawn buggy in Pennsylvania’s Amish country.
Airports in the East that were jammed up this weekend were working their way back to normal. On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration was reporting that nearly all major airports on the East Coast had average flight delays of less than 15 minutes.
Still, three major airports in the New York City area were expecting an unusually busy holiday travel week made worse by the cancellation of 1,200 flights.
Adam Reker was at LaGuardia Airport, trying to get home to Denver after having flights canceled on both Saturday and Sunday.
“Now they’re trying to make me stay until Wednesday,” he said. “It’s a nightmare.”
Reker has been spending his extra days in New York seeing some sights, but mostly was just trying to get home.
“Lot of pacing around in my hotel room, and about six hours a day spent on the phone with the airlines and my travel agent,” he said.
In Raleigh, N.C., airport spokeswoman Mindy Hamlin said agents were extremely busy rebooking flights.
“We have been very busy. We are seeing some full flights going up to New York,” she said.
Many schools and offices were closed Monday, making traffic a little lighter on slow-moving roads and lessening the strain on beleaguered transit systems. Highways were largely clear, but secondary roads were treacherous.
In Washington, federal agencies were closed Monday and bus service was running behind schedule, but the Metro finally was able to open all 86 of its rail stations. Subways had been limited to underground stations for two days.
Joy Ricasa, 59, a bookkeeper, said she drove from her home in Upper Marlboro, Md., to the Largo Metro station early Monday to commute into Washington. The roads were “coated with ice,” she said.
“I was very careful. I don’t want to have an accident,” Ricasa said.
In New York City, the Long Island Rail Road urged its riders to allow extra time; several passengers said the ride itself was fine, but getting to the train was a problem.
“The roads are a mess,” loan officer Sophia White, 42, said Monday morning after she took the train from Queens to Manhattan, en route to Jersey City, N.J. “The plow truck came through but it’s very icy still.”
J. Silhan worked an overnight shift at the Gurney’s Inn oceanfront resort in Montauk, N.Y., after spending all day Sunday plowing and digging out people’s houses with his father-in-law.
“I’ve been up 24 hours,” Silhan said Monday morning. “I’m going to go crash” — hastily emphasizing that he meant “sleep.”
Even as some workers returned to the job Monday, their children were being given the day off.
Philadelphia’s public and Roman Catholic schools were closed to give the city another day to clear streets and sidewalks. Schools also were closed Monday in Baltimore, Roanoke, Va., most of Washington’s suburbs and many Long Island towns, among other areas. Washington, D.C., public schools were already scheduled to be on winter break Monday.
On the rails, Amtrak canceled some trains in the East on Monday because of the storm and warned that long-distance trains to the South and West faced substantial delays.
Power outages remained an issue. More than 130,000 people were without power in West Virginia and Virginia as of Monday morning.
The storm came on the last weekend before Christmas, and merchants feared they’d take a hit as the storm blew through, shutting people indoors. Crowds were light in malls, but retailers hoped people who stayed home on Sunday would do some last-minute shopping on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The storm yielded record snowfall totals at several locations. The 16 inches recorded Saturday at Reagan National Airport outside Washington was the most ever for a December day. Philadelphia, which recorded 23.2 inches, had its second-largest snowfall since it began keeping records in 1884.
The storm began wreaking misery Friday in South Florida, where it caused flooding and knocked out electricity in the Carolinas before turning to snow as it moved north.
Four people were killed in accidents on snow-covered roads in Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.
Another death in Virginia is believed to have been caused by exposure, and authorities there said the weather may have contributed to another traffic death.
In Pennsylvania, a 20-year-old man was killed Saturday afternoon when the snowmobile he was driving crashed head-on into a horse-drawn buggy. The two people in the buggy were unhurt.
In western North Carolina, a man was killed when his car slid down an embankment.
A plow truck driver was found dead in his truck with the motor running Sunday on New York’s Long Island, but it was unclear whether his death was related to the storm, police said.
Black ice will be a concern Monday night after sunshine and “a little bit of melting,” said Richard Castro, of the Weather Service in Upton, N.Y.
Thomas Standers, of New Rochelle, N.Y., said he made good use of time spent trapped at home. He was feeding dozens of Christmas cards into a mailbox at the train station in Pelham early Monday.
“If we hadn’t been stuck inside all weekend, these would never have gotten done,” he said. “Now we have a fighting chance they’ll get there by Christmas.”
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Providence, R.I.; Jim Fitzgerald in Pelham, N.Y.; Kiley Armstrong, Deepti Hajela and Ula Ilnytzky in New York City; Nafeesa Syeed in Washington; and Alysia Patterson in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.
Tags: Accidents, Air Travel Disruptions, Christmas, District Of Columbia, Holidays, Leisure Travel, New York, New York City, North America, North Carolina, Occasions, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Power Outages, Rail Travel Disruptions, Transportation, Travel, United States, Virginia