East Coast storm strands travelers, vexes drivers

An East Coast blizzard is menacing travelers trying to get home after the holidays, with major airports and rail lines closed for a second day.

Two passenger buses were marooned on a New Jersey highway carrying about 50 passengers, some with diabetes.

State Police Sgt. Stephen Jones tells NBC's "Today" show that one bus was freed Monday morning and that officials hope to have the other freed soon.

Officials are urging anyone who doesn't have to drive to stay off the roads. In New York City, some drivers have abandoned cars on snowed-in roads and highways.

New York City's airports are closed, and a spokesman says Boston's Logan Airport could take days to get back to normal.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island (AP) — A blizzard bringing lashing winds, heavy snow and low visibility stranded thousands of holiday travelers away from home and vexed commuters trying to return to work Monday, as major airports and rail lines remained closed for a second day.

Many commuters appeared to be heeding the call to stay off the roads. In greater Boston, highways into the city were nearly abandoned early Monday, as many workers were given the day off.

The blizzard-like conditions wreaked havoc on travelers all along the East Coast, forced the suspension of operations at some of America's busiest airports and marooned a passenger bus carrying about 50 people, some with diabetes, on a New Jersey highway. The conditions also were blamed for a fatal car crash in Maine.

Airlines scrambled to rebook passengers on thousands of canceled flights — more than 1,400 out of the New York City area's three major airports alone — but said they didn't expect normal service to resume until Tuesday. Amtrak canceled train service from New York to Maine after doing the same earlier for several trains in Virginia. The nation's largest commuter rail system, New York's Long Island Rail Road, also suspended service. Bus companies canceled routes up and down the East Coast, and drivers faced hazardous travel conditions — sometimes with close to zero visibility.

New York City's John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports remain closed Monday, as was New Jersey's Newark Liberty International Airport. Boston's Logan International Airport was open — but it was nearly abandoned, without flights coming in or out.

Wind gusts of up to 80 mph (128 kph) knocked out power to thousands. Utilities reported about 30,000 customers were out in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

In Maine, police say Richard Folsom, 59, died several hours after his pickup crashed into a tree during whiteout conditions Sunday night.

In Monmouth County, New Jersey, snow drifts of up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) contributed to stalling a passenger bus on the Garden State Parkway, where snow plows were having a difficult time cleaning because there were so many stranded cars cluttering the ramps, state police spokesman Steve Jones said. Ambulances couldn't reach the bus, and state troopers were carrying their own water and food to the bus to give to people who were feeling ill, he said.

A blizzard warning, which is issued when snow is accompanied by sustained winds or gusts over 35 mph (56 kph) for three hours, was in effect early Monday from Delaware to the far northern tip of Maine. The storm was expected to bring its heaviest snowfall in the pre-dawn hours Monday, sometimes dumping up to 4 inches (10 centimeters) an hour. A total of up to 16 inches (40 centimeters) was expected across nearly all of Rhode Island, Connecticut and eastern Massachusetts, though forecasters said winds of 50 mph (80 kph) could create much deeper snow drifts.

States of emergency were declared in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Maine and Massachusetts, where Gov. Deval Patrick urged people who did not have to be on the roads to stay home, to ensure their safety and that of work crews. Nonessential state workers were told to stay home Monday.

In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino declared a snow emergency that bans parking on all major streets, and the New England Aquarium bubble-wrapped its four 5-foot (1.5-meter)-tall penguin ice sculptures to protect them from the wind and snow.

More than 2,400 sanitation workers were working in 12-hour shifts to clear New York City's 6,000 miles (10,000 kilometers) of streets. Not that Mayor Michael Bloomberg wanted people to use them.

"I understand that a lot of families need to get home after a weekend away, but please don't get on the roads unless you absolutely have to," Bloomberg said.

In Rhode Island, emergency officials encouraged businesses to let employees report to work late Monday, saying road conditions for the morning commute would be treacherous.

The monster storm is the result of a low pressure system off the North Carolina coast and strengthened as it moved northeast, the National Weather Service said. Because of it, parts of the South had their first white Christmas since records have been kept.


Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Glen Johnson in North Andover, Mass., David Sharp in Portland, Maine; Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia; Sara Kugler Frazier in New York City; Geoff Mulvihill in Cherry Hill, New Jersey; Tim Jacobs in Newark, New Jersey.; Ron Todt in Philadelphia; Page Ivey in Columbia, South Carolina; Jacquelyn Martin and Norm Gomlak in Washington; Ben Nuckols in Baltimore; Bradley Klapper in Washington, D.C.; John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia, and Beth DeFalco in Jackson, New Jersey.