Snowstorm forces students to sleep at schools as angry commuters rip public officials for lack of preparedness

Many commuters and students who got stuck in the snowstorm-induced traffic jams that brought the New York City metropolitan area to a grinding halt Thursday night still aren’t home as of Friday morning, as reports emerged of drivers sleeping in their cars and children forced to spend the night at schools.

In New Jersey, the West Orange Public School district said as of 9 a.m. Friday it is still working with the police department and city officials to send students home. The district – which serves more than 6,000 students – says it kept some students overnight after numerous buses had to turn around Thursday “due to the number of abandoned vehicles and road conditions throughout the county.”

“Stuck for nine hours, coming from downtown – from West Side Highway, 19th Street,” driver John Dinoia told CBS2 this morning while trapped in traffic on the Major Deegan Expressway, a highway many commuters take to head north out of New York City.

The station reported that many drivers along that road who fell asleep to a sea of red lights in front of them woke up to the same nightmarish sight Friday morning. Images that CBS 2 broadcast of the scene showed one driver slouched over behind the steering wheel, trying to get some rest.

“My view for 10 HOURS on Major Deegan,” one commuter posted on Twitter alongside a picture of standstill traffic, with several cars simply turned off.

“No info, no cops, no plows. Cars abandoned. People distraught, freezing and starving. 5 inches of snow. 5 INCHES. C’mon y’all. We can do better,” the commuter added, noting her next stop is to the babysitter who had to look after her children overnight.

The storm Thursday contributed to at least seven deaths around the country, according to the Associated Press. In the northeast, parts of New York received more than 18 inches of snow, the National Weather Service says, while dozens of communities in New Jersey and Connecticut recorded at least six inches.

Many who got stuck in the frozen mess blamed public officials for appearing to be underprepared as road conditions quickly grew treacherous.

“Somebody dropped the ball. No way a few inches of slush should bring the greatest city in the world to its knees,” New York City Democratic councilman Justin Brannan lamented on Twitter. “I've got constituents saying it took them 4 hours to get home. And not a snow plow in sight. WTF happened?”

The city’s Sanitation Department, according to the New York Post, said it initially sent out 700 salt spreaders but “the afternoon snowfall was much heavier than had been forecast.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio told 1010 WINS the plows were out and they had salt.

“We had a bit, if you’ll forgive the phrase, of a perfect storm -- of the timing and the intensity for a brief period of time,” he said.  “And then really this huge crash on the George Washington Bridge was a big, big contributing factor here."

In Pennsylvania, a camel was spotted Thursday on the side of the road in Souderton, outside of Philadelphia, after the truck carrying it stopped in the snow.

A school principal in Lower Moreland, also in that area, read books to students stuck on an elementary school bus over the FaceTime app, trying to calm them and adding the “grown-ups” would be getting them home safely, WFXT reported.