NEW YORK (AFP) – A powerful blizzard paralyzed much of northeast America Monday shutting down New York airports and crippling ground transport, as huge snowfalls snarled plans for many holiday travelers.
The storm that started early Sunday began to abate Monday afternoon as blue skies finally reappeared, revealing a snow-and-ice encrusted region, deserted highways, stranded cars and stuttering public transport.
The National Weather Service said the storm was due to move fully north out of the area later on Monday and into Canada. The first blasts hit Canada early Monday, dealing the Atlantic coast there a dose of the same snow and gale force winds that pummeled the US northeast.
Although the storm was moving away, New York transport hubs remained paralyzed at the busiest time of the year.
Some 2,000 flights were cancelled, compounding the misery of international and transatlantic passengers already hit by disruptions due to snow in Europe.
John F. Kennedy International Airport, La Guardia Airport and Newark International in New Jersey all closed during the storm.
The Federal Aviation Administration rescheduled the re-openings of JFK and Newark, pushing them back two hours to 6:00 pm (2300 GMT). But there was no firm time for La Guardia to reopen for business.
Other airports in the region, including Boston, were open, with delays at Philadelphia.
The Amtrak rail network said it was resuming limited service between New York and Boston after blizzard conditions halted trains along the heavily used corridor for 13 hours.
“Due to the residual effects of the storm, passengers should still expect delays on travel throughout the day and allow for ample time to arrive at their respective stations,” Amtrak said in a statement.
In six states — Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Virginia — governors called up a total of 430 National Guard troops to help authorities get life back to normal.
In New York elderly people struggled down sidewalks where local property owners cleared paths through snow drifts. But red-cheeked children raced happily up and down the same paths, jumping into the piles of snow.
Newspaper kiosks and fruit stands that open in the bitterest cold and heaviest summer rains were shut. Some businesses, though, made the extra effort.
“People are snowed in, so they’ll be needing food. Some others will be getting cabin fever and will want to come out,” explained David Chiong, owner of Cacabel Taqueria, which does eat-in and take-outs of spicey Mexican food.
But the city’s municipal services came under some criticism as plows and salt-spreading trucks made slow progress clearing the usually teeming streets.
The commuter line between the city and Long Island was paralyzed, as were portions of the city bus and subway systems, with ice and snow blocking tracks, while roads were only marginally better.
“Our sanitation crews worked through the night but road conditions are bad and there are service interruptions and delays on mass transit. To keep the roads clear for plows and emergency crews, I encourage New Yorkers to avoid driving,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
He also pleaded with residents not to call the emergency services except in cases of genuine “life-threatening” situations. Calls to the 911 number had doubled, he said.
Nearly 60,000 Massachusetts residents were without power late Sunday after the storm plowed across the northeastern state, The Boston Globe reported. Governor Deval Patrick had earlier declared a state of emergency.
Officials in eastern Canada said the blizzard was already dumping heavy amounts of snow and forcing the cancellation of flights from Fredericton and Moncton. Some 40,000 homes lost electricity.
The weather service said “winds with gusts upwards of 55 miles an hour (90 kmh) will cause widespread blowing snow, which will reduce visibilities to near zero in these regions.” Some areas risked seeing ferocious winds of up to 90 miles an hour (150 kmh).
Americans in the southern United States were meanwhile treated to a rare white Christmas, with light to moderate snow blanketing communities in Alabama, Mississippi, and North Carolina.