- Associated Press - Monday, December 27, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) — Two magic words — “on time” — started appearing on some airport departure boards Tuesday as stranded passengers’ patience and cash waned after a blizzard that brought transportation to a halt in the Northeast during one of the busiest travel times of the year.

For bedraggled passengers who were finally about to board flights home after Christmas, there was a sense of exhaustion that overwhelmed any excitement they might have felt.

“I don’t know if I ever want to go on vacation again, honestly,” said 28-year-old Tiffany Bunton, who was heading through security at LaGuardia Airport in New York with her 8-year-old daughter, Trystan, on their way back to Fort Worth, Texas.

It was an exhaustion felt by thousands, in travails big and small, serious and surreal, after the blizzard of December 2010 sucker-punched the Northeast on Sunday night and Monday, two of the busiest travel days of the year.

Air travel in the nation’s busiest airspace nearly shut down Monday, and thousands of stranded passengers turned terminals into hotels while they waited for planes to take off and land on plowed runways. Experts said it would likely take several days to rebook all the displaced passengers.

Kevin Fagan of San Francisco talks on his phone while an airplane sits motionless on the runway at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Monday. He was trying to get to Berlin. (Associated Press)
Kevin Fagan of San Francisco talks on his phone while an airplane ... more >

Adriana Siqueira, 38, rapidly was running out of money with no end in sight to her travel nightmare at New York’s LaGuardia. Ms. Siqueira, a housekeeper from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has been told she and her 10-year-old daughter cannot get home until New Year’s Day. They already have spent one night in the terminal and can’t afford a hotel.

“I have no idea what I’m going to do,” Ms. Siqueira said. “I don’t feel good.”

This storm simply didn’t play fair, cold-cocking the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow on a holiday weekend when everyone seemed to be out of town, groggy with holiday cheer or just unprepared.

In New York, residents outside Manhattan complained of a sluggish response by snowplow crews who still hadn’t finished clearing the streets. Fire officials said the unplowed streets and abandoned cars made it harder to respond to emergencies, including a five-alarm, wind-whipped blaze at a Queens apartment building Monday night.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday that hundreds of city buses and dozens of ambulances remained stuck in the snow throughout the city, and officials predicted streets would not be clear for another 24 hours, a day later than they first promised.

“The bottom line is, we’re doing everything we possibly can and pulling every resource from every possible place to meet the unique challenges that this storm is posing,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

Mr. Bloomberg said the city simply does not have enough tow trucks and crews to dig out the abandoned vehicles, and he has been pleading with private companies to help out.

Some 1,000 vehicles have been removed from three major New York-area expressways alone, he said. Emergency vehicles erred in trying to navigate unplowed streets during the storm, and New Yorkers also should not have ignored warnings and driven during that time, he said.

The Fire Department said it received more than 4,000 calls during the storm — its busiest day in recent memory, apart from the Sept. 11 attacks.

In New Jersey on Tuesday, a full day after the snow stopped falling, conditions were so bad that some post offices weren’t delivering mail, one major road was closed, others were reduced to one or two lanes, and officials were still making sure that people weren’t still stuck in the hundreds of cars stranded along roadways.

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