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Northeast visitors, residents struggle to return to normal after storm

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: New Jersey lifts its state of emergency, one of many imposed for the blizzard
  • NEW: AirTran will run additional flights in the Northeast on Tuesday, a spokesman says
  • Over 4,155 flights were cancelled Monday because of the holiday-week storm
  • As much as 32 inches of snow fell in spots, while winds gusted as high as 80 mph

New York (CNN) -- Residents of and visitors to the Northeast struggled to return to normal Monday night, with the worst of a brutal holiday-week blizzard having passed but with the headaches remaining for tens of thousands of stranded airline passengers and for millions of people still digging out.

The storm produced blinding snow and wreaked havoc from the Carolinas to Maine. When all was said and done Monday, over 4,155 flights had been cancelled, up to 32 inches of snow piled up in spots, and wind gusts blew as strong as 80 mph.

"This storm was one of the most challenging storms we've had in a decade or two," New York's LaGuardia Airport General Manager Thomas Bosco said. "We had 25 inches several years ago, but the snow stayed in place. Today the snow piles are drifting."

The New York metropolitan area's three airports began a slow process to get things back on track after being closed for nearly 24 hours, while airlines worked to get passengers to their final destinations.

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One runway at LaGuardia opened by 5:45 p.m., said Bosco, though only ten planes were expected to touch down tonight -- and not until 7:30 p.m. Two departures were scheduled.

John F. Kennedy Airport, further south in the same New York City borough of Queens, and Newark Liberty International, in northern New Jersey, opened to incoming and departing traffic at 6 p.m., said Port Authority spokeswoman Sara Joren.

AirTran spokesman Christopher White noted that his airline didn't plan any more cancellations Tuesday, after dropping 81 on Monday). He said that AirTran, instead, planned to operate additional flights out of LaGuardia, Boston's Logan Airport and White Plains Westchester County Airport to get people home.

And in another move back toward normalcy, New Jersey's Senate President Stephen Sweeney -- stepping in as acting governor -- rescinded the state of emergency in that state shortly after 10 p.m. That was one of several such orders issued in states and cities as the storm barrelled up the East Coast, as officials executed emergency plans to tried to expedite assistance.

Earlier in the day, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged residents not to dial 911 unless calling about a life-saving emergency, as edgy travelers continue to face difficult weather conditions stemming from the fifth-largest storm in the city's history.

Parts of Brooklyn had 24 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service -- shy of the 32 inches reported in Rahway, New Jersey. High winds were also a problem, including gusts as strong as 80 mph in Wellfleet on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

The federal Transportation Security Administration was coordinating with airports and airlines to bolster staffing as necessary when flights resumed, according to spokeswoman Sterling Payne.

Travelers were seen sleeping on cots and atop luggage carousels overnight, while less fortunate people bedded down on airport floors.

"It looked like everybody was camping inside," said Jacob Chmielecki, who was stranded with his family at New York's LaGuardia airport.

His father, Mike, said he "thought we were going to be on the floor."

"The cots were an upgrade," he said.

Antonio Christopher, who said he spent two nights sleeping at Heathrow Airport in London, England, where snow caused major delays earlier this month, found himself in a similar situation across the pond on Monday.

"It's one of those things," he said. "You have to keep up about these things. It was a blizzard. There's nothing you can do about it."

Amtrak, which had canceled service between Boston and New York on Sunday, said Monday that it had resumed limited service between the two cities. But spokesman Cliff Cole warned that many trains may already be sold out.

The passenger-train service's decision to cancel service on Sunday affected some 10,000 passengers.

In New York, some 400 passengers were trapped overnight aboard a Manhattan-bound subway as a result of weather conditions, according to Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Charles Seaton.

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The train was stopped between 1 a.m.ET and 8 a.m.ET during the above-ground portion of its trip from Queens, New York, he said. Once the train was able to move on, it arrived in Manhattan and there were no reports of injuries to any of the passengers.

"It was a big storm and it hit us hard," said New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Jay Walder, who said Long Island Railroad cancellations also left hundreds stranded at the city's Pennsylvania railroad station.

By early Monday evening, Amtrak trains to and from Penn Station were subject to 30-minute delays due to signal problems.

"Because of cancellations, some trains are being consolidated and some passengers may find themselves without a seat," said Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm.

Some regional trains also were making extra stops in an effort to accommodate passengers, he said.

There also were delays on Washington- and Boston-bound trains, as well as on routes from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, because of weather related problems with switches, Kulm added.

"Everybody is kind of anxious and I'm not sure whether we're going to get out," said John Tsatogas, a program officer at the National Science Foundation in Washington, who had been visiting friends in New York. "They've been asking me for 20 years to come and visit," he said. "It was the wrong year."

New Jersey transit service also was suspended due to signal issues, according to transit spokesperson Dan Stessel.

"Real big gusts, very very cold, and the train stuck on the tracks in Secaucus Junction with no electricity (and) doors open," said CNN Correspondent Christine Romans, who waited alongside other passengers aboard a New Jersey train. "Everone's very, very discouraged but they're trying figure out what is the next train they can get on."

Midtown direct trains that normally operate off the Morris-Essex line into New York were being rerouted to Hoboken, New Jersey, until signal problems were resolved, Stessel said.

Travel by road was also difficult. Emergency declarations were in place Monday in Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and Massachusetts, among other places.

Some 50 people aboard two tour buses traveling from Atlantic City, New Jersey, to New York became stranded around midnight Monday on the Garden State Parkway near West Trenton, according to New Jersey State Police spokesman Stephen Jones.

Police had freed one bus from the snow, but were still struggling to free the second one on Monday, Jones said.

"It's a matter of trying to get tow trucks out there," he said. "The bus is actually off the road and has to be pulled out from where it is. And there are no tow trucks with heavy-duty tows available."

Up to 50 cars also were trapped near the bus, said state police spokesman Rick Fuentes. Half of those cars were abandoned as 5-foot snow drifts rendered sections of the road virtually impassable, Fuentes said.

Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell has asked people to stay off the state's roads unless absolutely necessary, said Peter Boynton, the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Emergency Management.

"If you have to be on the road, of course, the rule of the day is take it slow," he said.

Many residents were seen stocking up on food and supplies at local markets in anticipation of the weather.

"The lines went out the door and around the store," said CNN Producer Katy Byron in Weston, Connecticut. "You could hear plows working throughout the night and today we haven't even started shoveling because the wind has been gusting so much."

In New Jersey, acting Gov. Stephen Sweeney ordered state offices closed and urged motorists to stay off roadways.

In Massachusetts coastal flooding was an issue. Fire crews in Scituate, Massachusetts, had to use inflatable boats to rescue a family of four from a beachfront home after a vacant summer home next door caught fire, WCVB-TV reported. Three other people were rescued from another home, according to the station.

Gov. Deval Patrick said the state was handling the storm well despite the tremendous snow totals, high winds and flooding.

"We are used to severe weather this time of year and everybody seems to be coping," he said.

Airports that normally would have been flush with activity after Christmas were largely quiet Monday as many would-be travelers stayed away, thanks in part to many airlines' pre-emptive cancellations.

But not all. Shabaz Motan came to LaGuardia on Sunday afternoon even though he knew his flight to Chicago had been canceled. He was hoping to get a free hotel room or flight voucher from the airline, but he ended up sleeping on a cot because airline officials told him it wasn't their fault he couldn't fly.

"It's been tough," he said.

Julie Stratton also spent the night at LaGuardia. She was scheduled to fly to Indianapolis, Indiana, on Sunday, but said Monday she is now being told she may not be able to fly out until Thursday.

"It's not the best of scenarios, no," she said. "But you just have to make the best of it. There's nothing else you can do."

At JFK, travel writer Jason Cochran said airport restaurants were running out of food, the latest blow for fellow passengers who suffered through an uncomfortable night.

"I guess the best word is dejected," he said.

Most carriers were waiving penalties for passengers traveling Sunday and Monday to airports from North Carolina to Boston and beyond. Affected customers were being urged to contact the relevant airline either by phone or online.

In North Carolina, icy road conditions were blamed for three deaths. Still, the most pervasive impact was in the Northeast, with high winds as much as the snows leaving many without electricity Monday.

According to Connecticut Light & Power's website, the number of its customers affected by the storm rose dramatically to 33,712 by Monday afternoon -- up from 13,000 Monday morning. CL&P services 1.2 million Connecticut residents so only about 2% of customers state-wide had been affected.

"We are actually down from about 9,000 customers without power over the weekend," said Con Edison spokeswoman D. Joy Faber. "We also have a number of trees and power lines that were knocked down, so we're advising all of our customers to stay away from the downed lines."

Meanwhile, the NFL announced that a game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Philadelphia Eagles -- originally scheduled for Sunday night -- had been postponed until 8:20 p.m. Tuesday.

Still, the storm's timing, coming over a holiday weekend, was fortuitous for some and disastrous for others. City and state officials predicted that the blizzard's impact on the economy and businesses might be muted, because many people had the holiday weekend off and fewer were expected to be commuting into work than normal on Monday.

"With the people who are staying home for the holidays, it's great, but we know a lot of people who are trying to get home," said Brett Martin, claiming his hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia, had received almost a foot of snow. "We're just playing games and hanging out by the fire."

CNN's Allan Chernoff, Jason Kessler, Allan Chernoff, Greg Botelho, Georgette Knuckles, Holly Yan, Nick Valencia, Chuck Johnston, Nina Golgowski, Katy Byron, David Ariosto and Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.