NEW YORK — Thousands of travelers trying to get home after the holiday weekend sat bored and bleary-eyed in airports and shivered aboard stuck buses and subway trains Monday, stranded by a blizzard that slammed the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow.
"People are exhausted. They want to get home," sighed Eric Schorr, marooned at New York's Kennedy Airport since Sunday afternoon by 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 across streets, railroad tracks and runways.
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.
By Monday evening, planes had begun landing at Kennedy and LaGuardia airports. Flights were expected to begin arriving at Newark, N.J., later in the night.
A Royal Jordanian flight touched down shortly before 7 p.m. at Kennedy, the first to arrive since the blizzard hit, said Steve Coleman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airports.
Just before an Air Canada flight from Toronto touched down at LaGuardia at about 7:40 p.m., the captain came over the loudspeaker and informed passengers that it was the first flight to land at the airport since the blizzard hit.
"Everyone was clapping toward the end," said Patrick Wacker, 37, who had been stranded in Toronto for a day while trying to get back to New York after visiting his parents in Frankfurt, Germany.
Wacker and other deplaning passengers said there was some turbulence on landing and the plane had to be towed to the gate because it couldn't get through the snow on the runway.
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.
Plows can't keep up
The storm had stymied most means of transportation. Buses sputtered to a halt in snow drifts. 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.
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.
As bad as the storm was, it could have been worse if it had been an ordinary work day. Children are home from school all week on Christmas vacation, and lots of people had taken 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. 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."
A ripple effect
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.
No safe way to travel
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.
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 snow drifts 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.