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Blizzard leaves Northeast travelers bleary-eyed

The storm dropped 18 to 20 inches of snow on New York City, clogging streets such as this one on the east side of Manhattan. The storm dropped 18 to 20 inches of snow on New York City, clogging streets such as this one on the east side of Manhattan. (Stan Honda/ AFP/ Getty Images)
By Deepti Hajela
Associated Press / December 28, 2010

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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 yesterday, stranded by a blizzard that slammed parts of the Northeast with more than 2 feet of show.

“People are exhausted. They want to get home,’’ sighed Eric Schorr, marooned at Kennedy International Airport in New York since Sunday afternoon by the storm, which worked its way up the coast from the Carolinas to Maine with winds up to 80 mile per hour 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 New Jersey, and 2 feet north of New York City.

The storm closed all three of the New York area’s airports Sunday and stymied most other means of transportation. 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 turning over the plastic bins used for sending items through airport security.

Some airline passengers could be stuck for days. Many planes are booked solid because of the holidays, and airlines are operating fewer flights because of the economic downturn.

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. Some New Yorkers complained that plow crews were neglecting the outer boroughs in favor of Manhattan.

A testy Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the cleanup effort, saying the furious pace of the snowfall — 2 to 3 inches per hour — required crews to plow streets repeatedly. And abandoned cars slowed the process, 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.’’

The blizzard had a ripple effect on air travel, stranding thousands of people at airports around the country.

By 5:30 p.m., several flights leaving Kennedy were listed as on time for departure to Europe and South America, and other flights were listed as arriving on time in the next few hours.

Passengers stuck at New York City’s main bus terminal — where all service was canceled — tried to get some sleep as they awaited word on when buses might start rolling again.

In Virginia, the National Guard rescued three people trapped in a car for hours in the Eastern Shore area.

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.