Home for Christmas? Travel Still Snarled After Deadly Winter Storm

Airports struggle back after as much as 2 feet of snow. Shopping, NFL also hit.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20, 2009 — -- Winter officially arrives Monday -- but it jumped the gun on the East Coast, where a record-setting storm brought as much as two feet of snow and was blamed for at least five deaths, thousands of traffic accidents, closed airports and roads, power outages and nearly deserted stores on the weekend before Christmas.

Travelers continue to suffer the consequences.

Airports closed or severely hampered during the storm tried to rebound after many air travelers woke up Sunday on terminal floors. But open seats were scarce after thousands of canceled or delayed flights, and massive delays raged on.

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In some cases, it seemed airlines couldn't promise everyone would be home for Christmas.

College student Marisa Morin, 19, spoke to ABC News this morning after she was delayed more than 25 hours at Washington's Reagan National Airport.

"The latest is that they cancelled my 9:30 for this morning and they've put me on a 3:30 p.m. or a 9:00," she said. "They said that the likelihood of getting out is probably slim just because they have to clear all the runways here. ... It's going to keep on going like that: They're going [to] put me on the next flights until one lucky flight actually leaves."

Reagan National reopened for flights at 12:30 p.m., but Morin had lost patience. Instead, the Georgetown University freshman, aiming to get home to New Hampshire for the holidays, said she got "the last ticket" on an Amtrak train to Boston.

Even airports outside the storm zone were affected by the East Coast's woes.

Jacob Shirk, stuck at Chicago O'Hare International Airport Saturday, was told to stay put for the rest of the night.

"When I first got in, they gave me a toothbrush and just said, 'Get comfortable,'" Shirk said.

'Blizzard of '09' Sets Records Up and Down East Coast

Twelve states from North Carolina to Maine were hit by what they're calling the "Blizzard of '09." In addition to dumping record amounts of snow for December up and down the eastern seaboard, the storm unleashed wind gusts of up to 65 miles per hour in some areas.

Philadelphia got 23.2 inches of snow, the second-biggest single snowfall there ever, according to The Associated Press.

Today, Washington, D.C., was reeling from the largest one-day December snowfall in history, with totals of 16 inches to two feet in the region falling Saturday.

Even on Monday, federal agencies in the Washington, D.C., area will be closed, and only emergency personnel and some Telework employees were being asked to report to their jobs, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management announced.

Snowfalls of nearly two feet or more were reported in areas as disparate as Robbinsville, N.C.; Virginia; West Virginia; Maryland; southern New Jersey; West Greenwich, R.I.; Bourne, Mass.; and parts of New York's Long Island, the National Weather Service reported.

New York City got 10.9 inches of snow in Central Park and 14.5 inches at JFK airport, apparently amounting to its largest snowfall in several years.

The storm was "exiting the Northeast" at 4 p.m., but winter weather advisories remained in effect along the Maine coast, according to the National Weather Service.

Bad Timing -- or 'Perfect'?

The timing could not be worse for many, with Christmas only five days away and retailers already struggling. And the weather snarled the travel plans of people flying home for Christmas.

But the timing wasn't bad for everyone.

"Other than spoiling the Christmas shopping, from the emergency manager perspective it was the perfect timing," Peter Judge, spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, told the AP. "Even the cleanup today, we're not fighting the people who would be trying to get to work."

Some Twitter users also found the storm to their liking, evidently. A group of them organized a massive snowball fight in downtown Washington Saturday by communicating through the social media site.

Snarled Air Traffic System

The mood was not as light at the East Coast's airports. Airlines scrapped thousands of flights at airports from North Carolina all the way up through Boston, causing a ripple effect of delays across the country.

Click here or scroll down for a list of cancellations reported by major carriers.

Inconvenienced travelers included the National Football League's Chicago Bears, whose initial flight to Baltimore to play the Ravens today was canceled. The Bears managed to fly to Baltimore Saturday night, ABC News Baltimore affiliate WMAR reported, though the start of the game was delayed from 1 to 4:15 p.m.

In Philadelphia today, officials also delayed the start of the San Francisco 49ers-Philadelphia Eagles game a few hours to help get the field cleaned off and allow more time for people to get to the site.

Sleeping at the Airport

It was a long night for workaday airport travelers, too. Passengers who had nowhere else to go camped out at several airports, hoping for a flight out today.

They included Liam Cummings, stuck at Washington's Reagan National Airport since Friday evening.

"This is where I slept last night, and this is where I plan on sleeping tonight," he said as he lay on a floor.

Saturday night, D.C.'s airport authority gave out 200 blankets at National Airport and 600 at region's other large airport, Dulles, where officials managed to open one runway at 6 a.m. and started receiving arriving flights.

Tara Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the region's Metropolitan Airport Authority, said reopening National was particularly difficult.

"We had more snow than we've ever had a Reagan National," Hamilton said. "What that meant was we couldn't simply push the snow away or groom it. We actually had to haul it away. ... I think we were doing the best we could do. We've never had a situation like this."

Things were particularly bad this morning at National's American Airlines ticket counters, with waits of more than four hours. Other airlines apparently canceled most of their morning flights and told passengers not to come to the airport.

Baltimore-Washington International Airport was able to keep one runway open Saturday. Although the airport was open, officials said Sunday flights would continue to be impacted by the storm, with travelers advised to check with their carrier before making their way to any of the airports.

Airport Delays Go On

About 1,200 flights were canceled Saturday and Sunday at the New York region's three major airports, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey said.

At New York's LaGuardia Airport, passengers were hoping they could beat the storm, with no luck.

"We just found out that all the flights for our airline are canceled," said one traveler, Tina Moore.

In Baltimore, Alex Eichmiller was stuck on a runway for eight hours along with 147 fellow passengers on an Air Jamaica flight, as he told the local ABC station.

"Everyone is getting restless and hot and hungry," he said, adding that they were getting water as they waited, but not food.

Snarled Highways, Stranded Motorists

Things were not much better on the roads.

In Havertown, Pa., near Philadelphia, Christine Cavalier said initially it appeared only major thoroughfares in the area were being cleared.

"People are getting through, but they can't go everywhere," she said, according to ABC News Radio.

Cavalier, mother of a 9-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son, said her kids loved it.

"The snow angels were a little bit hard to do, because they couldn't get up after they made them," she said, laughing. "They were so deep down in the snow that it was hard for them to actually get back up again."

Even after the snow moved out of some areas, blowing snow and unplowed roads continue to make driving dangerous well into Sunday.

Authorities in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia asked residents this morning to stay home and give public works crews a chance to plow major highways and roads.

Area hospitals asked for volunteers with four-wheel drive vehicles to help get doctors and nurses to work. Other employers were requesting that only essential employees report to work today.

In Virginia alone on Saturday, police responded to more than 2,900 traffic accidents and disabled vehicles, and nearly 1,000 drivers were stranded on a highway. Rescue workers had to drive up and down roads offering to take stranded riders to shelters. The National Guard had to rescue some motorists in Humvees.

"The only thing I can say is if you don't have to be out here don't," said Mark Hall a stranded driver. "And if you are, make sure you got a full tank of gas."

Almost 1,000 people across the nation woke up in Red Cross shelters this morning, the Red Cross said in a Twitter "tweet" today.

In Maryland on Saturday, a snow plow made matters worse when it pushed as much as 18 inches of snow onto a ramp where 20 vehicles were hoping to get on the highway to get home. A state trooper, also stranded with the cars, was able to call for help and get all of the drivers and passengers out safely.

One Virginian was reported as having been killed in a traffic accident caused by "slick roads," according to The Associated Press, and another of the five deaths may have been caused by poor conditions on the road.

Another death is believed to have been caused by exposure to low temperatures, according to the AP, and two others in Ohio were killed in accidents on the snowy roads.

There were plenty of rescues, too.

In Wonalancet, N.H., after a lengthy search, fire-rescue crews managed to locate a missing 53-year-old hiker who had called for help over a bad cell phone connection during the storm, according to ABC News affiliate WMUR.

D.C. Blast -- 16 Inches to 2 Feet

Aside from occasional light flurries, snow had stopped falling in downtown Washington, D.C., by this morning after a record-breaking winter storm. It was the heaviest December snowfall ever and among the biggest snowfalls in local history.

Thousands of people in Virginia and Maryland remained without power this morning.

Some parts of the region got more snow in a day then would normally fall in an entire winter. In the end, the storm dumped anywhere from 16 inches to two feet on the nation's capitol and nearby Virginia and Maryland suburbs Friday night and Saturday.

At its peak, the Nor'easter dumped snow at a rate of up to 2 inches an hour and packed wind gusts of 40 mph as it moved across a wide swath of the mid-Atlantic before moving on to Philadelphia, New York and into New England.

The city's public transportation system remained largely shut down Sunday morning, with no busses running and trains operating only on underground portions of the 106-mile Metrorail system. Officials gradually restored bits of still-fragmentary service through the day.

As the storm raged Saturday, Waldo Wentz, 56, tried in vain to get a cab in deserted downtown Washington, to get to a friend's house for a Christmas party in Maryland.

"My friends' kids are going to be disappointed if Santa doesn't arrive with these presents," he said, his arms loaded with gifts, a Yule log and cookies.

McKinsey Harris, who was expecting a four-hour commute from western Virginia to Washington Saturday, wound up stuck for nearly a full day.

"I have never seen anything like this," Harris said. "I've seen overturned cars, tractor trailers sliding off the road. I had no idea how to handle this weather and I have now been stuck in it for almost 24 hours. So I guess I've learned and I've also learned to always have you know a blanket, food, water, everything with me just in case something like this is to happen ever again."

Wintry Wedding -- But Band Got Snowed Out

The blizzard did not stop Emily Lake and Tony McCormack from tying the knot. They married Saturday at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Silver Spring, Md., even though their wedding band had already cancelled due to the weather.

Many churches along the eastern corridor suspended Sunday church services, reminding parishioners that church law includes a provision for "grave cause" to miss Mass at church.

Instead, the dioceses were urging Catholics to watch Mass on television or listen to Masses broadcast on the radio or on the Internet if their roads were "unsafe."

ABC News' Marisol Castro, Emily Friedman, Jennifer Parker, David Kerley and Cullen Dirner, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Air and Rail Cancellations and Delays -- Carrier by Carrier

Check with your carrier for the latest delay information.

Here is what they reported earlier today:

United Airlines (2:45 p.m.) -- Systemwide, United and United Express had 1,000 cancellations Friday-Sunday out of about 9,900 flights scheduled. The airline was adding extra planes and larger planes, and hoped to be in better shape by Monday.

USAirways (2:45 p.m.) -- Cancelled 908 flights Saturday, including mainline and express, and 671 today. That's out of a total of 3,000 flights a day. The airline is trying to reset for Monday and run as normal a schedule as possible.

Southwest (2:30 p.m.) -- Cancelled 380 Flights Saturday and 174 today, mostly first flights of the day, though more are possible. Better on Monday.

Amtrak (12:30 p.m.) -- About 15 percent of trains out of Washington, D.C., were canceled today. The issue was equipment in wrong places and trouble getting employees where they needed to be. It was having a ripple effect throughout the system -- affecting trains going south as well as north. Trains that were running were operating at full capacity today. Some cancelations included Acela Express service. There probably will be some residual effect for Monday.

American Airlines (12:30 p.m.) -- Cancelled 127 flights, plus another 40 for American Eagle. All morning operations at LGA, JFK and BOS were canceled. Hoped to resume operations there this afternoon.

Delta (12:30 p.m.) -- Hundreds of flights remained canceled. Hope to start resuming operations in the afternoon, but didn't expect planes to really start flying until Monday. The issue wasn't the runways -- but rather getting planes and workers where they needed to be. Officials were trying to figure out if they can run more flights or use bigger planes on some routes to accommodate passengers.

Continental (12:30 p.m.) -- Cancelled 50 flights this morning. Other flights were operating with one- to two-hour delays, depending on location and de-icing. Monday looked better domestically for a more complete schedule. However, there could be problems with flights coming from Europe -- which has its own weather problems.

JetBlue (12:30 p.m.) -- Cancelled 205 out of 682 flights -- mostly JFK and Boston. The airline's goal was to be up and running "full steam" Monday.

Air Tran (12:30 p.m.) -- 32 cancellations today. No more expected.