Federal workers, kids get day off as Mid-Atlantic cleans up from massive snow; more on the way

By Brett Zongker, AP
Monday, February 8, 2010

Government shut down as DC, region dig out of snow

WASHINGTON — Federal workers and school children got a day off Monday as the Mid-Atlantic region dug out from as much as 3 feet of snow that made travel nearly impossible and knocked out power to tens of thousands of people.

Federal agencies that employ 230,000 in Washington were closed, as were many local governments, businesses and school districts. Utilities warned it could be days before power is restored to everyone.

With more snow expected Tuesday into Wednesday — as much as a foot in some places and close to another foot and a half in Philadelphia — stranded travelers wondered when they might escape the icy, gray mess.

At Washington’s Reagan National Airport, where flights had resumed after more than two days, the “on time” flights on the departure board started to outnumber the canceled ones by mid-afternoon. But many people still didn’t know when they might get out.

Mark Burroughs, the mayor of Denton, Texas, needed to be back for a vote Tuesday, but he and his wife, Annie, were on standby. They made it to a weekend snowball fight in Dupont Circle that they called “great fun,” but by Monday they were ready to go home.

“I saw on the news Thursday night that the snow was coming, so like masochists, we got on an airplane and came here,” Annie Burroughs joked.

Just getting to the airport was a challenge for others. Chris Vaughn of Washington managed to rebook a flight to Park City, Utah, that had been canceled Friday, but his shuttle driver called Monday to say the company was canceling all pickups. One cab company wanted $100 to take him to the airport, and another was charging $50 for a cab ride that would usually cost less than $20.

“I’m done with city, urban snow life,” Vaughan said, walking through the airport with his ski boots over his shoulder. “I don’t want to be part of any more of that.”

Delays and cancellations remained a problem at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and Dulles International Airport as well.

Travelers were having a bit more luck at Union Station, which was bustling Monday. Passengers, many of whom decided to try Amtrak after flights were canceled, stood in long lines to board northbound trains.

Among them was Manuel Bernardo, 30, of Bethesda, Md., who was on his way to Barcelona, Spain. He bought a pricey train ticket from D.C. to New York after his flight was canceled and was hoping to make it there in time to catch his flight to Madrid.

“Until this morning, I was happy as pie, because I love snow,” he said.

The charming sight of cross-country skiers gliding around monuments and people throwing snowballs had given way to images of people huddled next to fireplaces or hunched over snow shovels.

The snowbound U.S. Senate met for a few minutes Monday for the express purpose of resolving to recess for 24 hours.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, wearing a V-neck sweater over his usual shirt and tie, said it was difficult for him and anyone not living on Capitol Hill to make it to work given the minimally cleared streets and a subway system that was running on a very limited basis.

Virginia Democrat Mark Warner, who arrived from a nearby suburb in a suit and what looked like galoshes, gaveled the chamber in and out of session. The third senator present for the formality was newly sworn in Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown.

In Falls Church, Va., a Washington suburb, Jeff Patmore, 43, was digging out his Jeep. The State Department employee had the day off, but his family was running low on supplies — particularly milk for his three young children.

Patmore said he attempted a grocery run during the storm Saturday, but didn’t make it far.

“I thought my car could do anything, and I was wrong,” he said. “My wonderful neighbors dug me out, and I limped back with my pride injured but everything else in tact.”

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.

Forecasters expect highs in the low- to mid-30s for the next few days, and sunshine Monday should help melt some of the snow before more arrives Tuesday, said weather service meteorologist Bryan Jackson.

Weather service forecaster Bruce Sullivan said the next storm is expected to begin late Tuesday afternoon and go through midday Wednesday. Hardest hit could be central and northern Maryland, northern Delaware and parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Officials say it will be several days before they know just how much the cleanup will cost. Maryland had already spent $50 million of the $60 million budgeted to keep the snow clear. In D.C., officials said they were over their $6.2 million snow budget even before the storm started. And Pennsylvania officials said they had already spent half of their $245 million winter operations budget before the storm hit.

Authorities said most public transportation in Philadelphia has resumed. In Pittsburgh and surrounding areas buses were running along more than 100 routes, but about 60 others were without service because roads were bad. Light-rail had mostly reopened. Washington’s Metro trains were to be limited Monday to underground rails, and its buses were going to operate on a very limited basis.

Associated Press photographer Jacquelyn Martin and writers Jessica Gresko and Nafeesa Syeed in Washington; Sarah Karush in Falls Church, Va.; Brian Witte in Annapolis, Md.; Ben Nuckols in Baltimore; Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pa., and Dan Nephin in Pittsburgh contributed to this story.

will not be displayed