‘Historic’ snow strands countless passengers in Mid-Atlantic trying to get back to normal

By Nafeesa Syeed, AP
Sunday, February 7, 2010

‘Historic’ snow strands countless in Mid-Atlantic

WASHINGTON — Tens of thousands of workers in the snowy Mid-Atlantic region were given Monday off to shovel out from a blizzard that buried some areas in nearly 3 feet of snow as another storm loomed.

Federal agencies that employ 230,000 in Washington will be closed, as will many businesses and school districts across the region. With more snow expected Tuesday, stranded travelers and those struggling with no electricity wondered when they’d escape the icy, gray mess.

“You’ve got a whole city held captive here,” Gwen Dawkins, who was trying to get to Detroit, said as she waited at Washington’s Reagan National Airport, where all flights had been canceled after 18 inches of snow was recorded by Sunday.

Crews plowing streets and homeowners shoveling their walkways faced the possibility of another storm adding to the work. The National Weather Service issued a storm watch for the Washington area Tuesday, saying there was potential for another 5 inches or more of snow. Forecasters expect highs in the low- to mid-30s for the next few days, though sunshine on Monday should help melt some of the snow, said weather service meteorologist Bryan Jackson.

The sight of cross-country skiers cascading down monument steps and flying snowballs has since given way to images of people hunched over snow shovels or huddled next to fireplaces.

John and Nicole Ibrahim and their 2-year-old son, Joshua, have been without power at their suburban Washington home in Silver Spring, Md., since overnight Friday. They were among hundreds of thousands without electricity across the region, and utilities warned it could be days before electricity is restored to everyone.

“We were all bundled up in the same bed together and (Joshua) was coughing in his sleep and his heart was racing, and we worried he might be getting pneumonia,” Nicole Ibrahim said.

The National Weather Service called the storm “historic” and reported a foot of snow in parts of Ohio and 2 feet or more in Washington, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Parts of Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia got closer to 3 feet.

Eric Berry, a plow driver for Baltimore, said he worked 12-hour shifts Saturday and Sunday. He said overanxious residents were sometimes hindering his ability to clear secondary roads by digging out their cars and moving them into the path of his plow.

“They feel like they need to park in the street, so that when it’s time to go, they can up and go,” Berry said.

In Philadelphia, 28.5 inches of snow fell during the storm, just shy of the record 30.7 inches during a January 1996 blizzard. Snow totals were even higher to the west in Pennsylvania, with 31 inches recorded in Upper Strasburg and 30 inches in Somerset.

The nearly 18 inches recorded at Reagan National Airport was the fourth-highest storm total for Washington, and airport officials haven’t decided when flights would resume.

Dawkins, 59, was supposed to leave Washington on Saturday but still hadn’t Sunday afternoon because of delays and cancellations. And she said there was “no way we’re getting out of here tonight.”

“They were very ill-prepared,” she said.

At nearby Dulles International Airport in Virginia, the record was shattered with 32 inches. Some flights there have resumed.

Authorities say most public transportation in Philadelphia has resumed. In Pittsburgh, bus service restarted but light-rail wasn’t running. Washington’s Metro trains were to be limited Monday to underground rails, and its buses were going to operate on a very limited basis.

Despite the snow, watching the Super Bowl was still a priority for many. Eric Teoh, 29, of Arlington, said he borrowed his neighbor’s snow shovel and spent at least an hour getting his car out of the snow to head to the Crystal City Sports Pub in Arlington, Va.

“I was snowed in and I dug my car out today to come here,” he said. “I couldn’t go anywhere.”

The frigid temperatures and snowy and icy streets did not deter runner Patrick Duffy, 23, from training for the Pittsburgh Marathon in May. He admitted was going slower than usual.

“I’m trying not to fall. I haven’t fallen yet,” Duffy said, his eyelashes frosted white.

In Mount Lebanon, a suburb south of Pittsburgh, Robb and Meredith Hartlage were again trying to clear the sidewalk in front of their house.

“We did a couple hours yesterday. I would say about four hours mixed with sledding,” said Robb Hartlage, 40, who said he’s not too old to play in the snow. He acknowledged, however, that the shoveling was hard work.

“I made some ‘old man’ noises when I got out of bed,” he said.

Nuckols reported from Baltimore. Contributing to this report were Associated Press photographer Jacquelyn Martin in Silver Spring, Md.; and writers Geoff Mulvihill in Atlantic City, N.J.; Ron Todt in Philadelphia; Jessica Gresko in Washington; and Kathleen Miller in Arlington, Va.

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