Travel chaos as blizzard hits eastern United States

Blizzards swept north along the eastern coast of the US,
forcing the cancellation of more than 2,000 flights and disrupting rail and
road traffic.

The winter storm closed airports, stranding thousands of
people in the busy post-Christmas travel period.

The New York area was in the storm’s bull’s eye,
receiving up to 51cm (20in) of snow, and even more in some areas.

Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, North
Carolina and Virginia declared emergencies.

Officials in eastern Canada said they also were bracing
for the storm, which was expected to arrive in Nova Scotia sometime on Monday.

The US National Weather Service said the monster snow
storm was the result of a low pressure system which originated off North
Carolina and is currently intensifying near Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

It said a full-blown blizzard – meaning winds of at least
35mph (55km/h) along with snow and low visibility – was pummelling southern New
England and the New York City area.

Blizzard warnings remained in effect for coasts of the
northern mid-Atlantic states as far as Maine. Officials in eastern Canada said
they were also bracing for the storm.

The southern states of Georgia and South Carolina had
their first white Christmas in more than a century.

But Washington DC escaped the blizzard, with only a
dusting of snow.

The timing of the snowstorm meant disruption for many
thousands travelling after Christmas reunions and hampered the start of the
shopping sales season and the return to work for many commuters.

Announcing a state of emergency in Massachusetts,
Governor Deval Patrick warned that the storm was “expected to produce
widespread heavy snowfall, periods of zero visibility, high winds, power
outages, coastal flooding, and beach erosion”, reported AFP news agency.

Power had already reportedly been cut to tens of
thousands of homes in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

All three airports serving New York – JFK, LaGuardia and
Newark Liberty International Airport – were closed on Monday morning.

Passengers camped out on floors in terminals.

Flights were also cancelled at other airports across the
north-east, with airport authorities expressing hope that flights could resume
on Monday afternoon or Tuesday.

In New York City, some 2,400 street cleaners are working
12-hour shifts to clear the snow from the city’s 6,000 miles of roads – but
inhabitants were advised to stay at home anyway.

“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,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

A huge task
awaits New York’s 2,400-strong team of street cleaners

Amtrak announced it was cancelling rail services from New
York to Maine as well as in Virginia, after earlier doing the same for New York
City-Boston services.

New York’s Long Island Rail Road remained suspended and
many bus routes serving the east coast were also cancelled.

The conditions were blamed for a car crash in Maine in
which a 59-year-old man died, and for stranding two buses carrying some 50
passengers on a New Jersey motorway. State troopers carried water and food to
some of the passengers who are diabetic.

Stranded cars were hampering the efforts of snow ploughs
and ambulances, but passengers on one bus have been rescued and an operation
was under way to free passengers aboard the other.

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