(New York Times)
Airports and railroads limped back to life, but thousands were still stranded. Roads remained glazed and city streets choked with snow. Subways and buses ran sporadically. Power was still out for thousands. Business was bad, and there were grim tales of people snowbound for hours in cars, buses and trains.
But the two-day blizzard that attacked the East Coast on Sunday, the worst in four years, was over by late Monday morning, churning to oblivion in the Canadian Maritimes and leaving a trail of disruption in a dozen states from the Carolinas to Maine. The New York area and the Northeast took the brunt of it. Knee-to-thigh-high snows were common, and officials said it would probably take days to dig out.
But given the size and strength of the storm — it was New York City’s sixth-largest snowfall, accompanied by winds that gusted over 65 miles an hour — there were still a lot of streets to be plowed, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg acknowledged, as well as sales tax revenues to be recouped. But he rejected any notion that the city was somehow less prepared for this storm than for others past.
“The world has not come to an end,” Mr. Bloomberg said at a news briefing. “The city is going fine. Broadway shows were full last night. There are lots of tourists here enjoying themselves. I think the message is that the city goes on.”
The National Weather Service said the biggest snow accumulations in the area were in New Jersey, with 32 inches in Rahway, 31.8 inches in Elizabeth, 29 in Lyndhurst and 25 in many parts of the state. In New York City, 20 inches fell in Central Park, 24 in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, and 22 in Bedford Park, the Bronx. In Orange County, N.Y., Tuxedo Park and Harriman had 26 inches.
New York was a city of apocalyptic silence in the morning. The choreography of traffic, commuter trains and pedestrian hordes was missing. In its place, a plow scraped by now and then and a car or two churned past on deserted thoroughfares. Cabs were a myth. Side streets were impassable, and people muffled to the eyes slogged over huge drifts and mountains of curbside snow, trying to keep their footing.
By late morning, the sun broke through and the skies cleared to pristine blue. Winds that had howled like banshees moderated through the day to cello velocities, and Central Park was a child’s dream of winter, with sledders, skiers and strollers out in the drifts, cutting trails to nowhere. Bizarrely, forecasters said temperatures in the New York area would climb to nearly 50 degrees by next weekend.
But it was an illusion that cloaked harsh realities. Millions of lives were out of sync, with people unable to get to work or to get home after the holiday weekend. Thousands were still stranded at airports and bus and train terminals, or staying in hotels. Some 4,000 flights had been canceled in the region, and even as airports began to reopen, the backlog was so great that officials said it might take days to catch up.
Tens of thousands of homes remained without power, their lines cut by high winds and toppling tree limbs. Utilities reported 60,000 customers without power in Massachusetts, 8,000 in New York City and Westchester County, 8,700 on Long Island and more than 8,000 in New Jersey.
Five deaths were reported in highway accidents in the storm, four in the Carolinas and one in Maine. Highways, even if plowed, remained icy and treacherous, and officials were still advising drivers to say off the roads and take mass transit. But mass transit was not always reliable in this storm.
Several subway trains were marooned overnight after losing power, including two Manhattan-bound A trains at Aqueduct and Broad Channel on the Rockaways line in Queens, stranding hundreds of passengers in frigid carriages for nearly seven hours until rescue trains reached them around 8 a.m. It was a frightening and frustrating ordeal, but there were no reports of injuries.
Elsewhere on the city subways, entire lines were shut down by the storm. The B, J, M, Z and No. 7 trains were suspended for much of the day, and D, F, L and Q trains did not operate in southern reaches of Brooklyn for hours. Blowing snow and drifts four feet high compounded equipment problems, delaying crews from reaching frozen switches and tracks. And many train operators were unable to get to work.
New York City Transit also reported more than 400 buses stuck in drifts overnight, and bus service was “uniformly bad” throughout the city, a spokesman conceded.
Jay H. Walder, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said things would be better, but not perfect, on Tuesday. “Our real priority now is digging everything out and getting everything in place for service tomorrow,” he said at the mayor’s news conference at City Hall. “Service tomorrow will not be a walk in the park. It will be a tough day. We’ll have limited service.”
The city’s sanitation commissioner, John J. Doherty, said it would also take time to plow out the 6,000 miles of side streets. “To be honest with you, to get into some of the tertiary streets, it’s going to take us at least 24 hours.”
Throughout the storm, the New York Fire Department posted additional firefighters at all of its 198 engine companies and operated more ambulances to respond to medical emergencies. Still, it noted, high call volumes and impassable roads had created a backlog of 1,300 calls.
At its worst, 100 ambulance were stuck in the snow, said Patrick Bahnken, president of Local 2507 of District Council 37, which represents emergency medical technicians and paramedics in the Fire Department. There were instances when battalion chiefs transported patients in their trucks, and emergency personnel had to park blocks from their destination, attending to the patients and then carrying them over unplowed snow back to the ambulance.
There were perils in the suburbs, too. In Monmouth County, N.J., two buses carrying people from Atlantic City casinos to New York were stuck for hours on the Garden State Parkway, which was littered with stranded cars that cluttered ramps, blocked snowplows and delayed ambulances trying to get to accidents.
Rescuers reached both marooned buses in the early morning, and while some passengers needed food and water and a few were diabetics, no serious medical problems were reported. State troopers also reported rescuing several stranded motorists on highways in northern New Jersey during the night.
It was unclear how many workers stayed home on Monday. Cars were buried in suburban driveways, and commuting was nightmarish. By 9 a.m., the Long Island Rail Road, the nation’s largest commuter line, shut down and was out of service until the evening, when partial service returned, a spokesman said.
The Metro-North Railroad suspended service entirely for several hours in the morning, the victim of a stalled train at a strategic location, but later resumed limited hourly service.
New Jersey Transit bus lines were out of service all day, and passengers were warned not to expect the buses on Tuesday morning either. New Jersey Transit trains in and out of Pennsylvania Station ran with 15- to 30-minute delays, a spokesman said, and PATH trains were operating only between Jersey City and Manhattan. The Staten Island Railway also suspended service.
Amtrak restored limited service between New York and Boston, but warned passengers to expect extensive delays. Amtrak trains between New York and Washington were running on schedule, the railroad said.
Air travel resumed in the Northeast, but the cancellations and delays that had plagued airlines through the storm continued to have ripple effects: more bad news for thousands stranded at airports in the region.
In the New York area, Kennedy International, La Guardia and Newark Liberty International Airports reopened early Monday evening and began the long process of catching up on the more than 4,500 arriving and departing flights canceled since Sunday.
Airports in Boston and Philadelphia also resumed flights. But for many passengers the reopenings were only a first step. Tens of thousands had to rebook flights on planes whose seats were already scarce because of the holidays. A full resumption of operations thus appeared to be days away.
“If you’re flying in and out of New York or even Boston, you stand a very good chance of your flight being canceled and not being re-accommodated for days,” said David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, the trade group for major carriers.
Business groups said it might take retailers weeks to recover from the storm-related loss of revenues. But at the cafe Roots and Vines on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the tempest-tossed camaraderie was amiable and business was picking up, more in vines than roots perhaps.