Blizzard slams U.S. northeast, causes travel havoc

NEW YORK,  (Reuters) – Heavy snow and strong winds  slammed the northeastern United States today, canceling  hundreds of flights and causing havoc as travelers scurried to  return to work after the Christmas holiday.
The U.S. National Weather Service issued blizzard warnings  along the coast from Maine down to New Jersey with winter storm  warnings in effect for nearly the entire East Coast.
The air travel nightmare was made worse when Amtrak  canceled passenger rail service between New York and Boston.
The weather service forecast 15 to 25 inches (38 to 64 cm)  of snowfall in New York City through Sunday night with  widespread blowing of snow expected tomorrow, when many people  will be returning to work after celebrating Christmas.
“Unfortunately our city is directly in the path,” New York  Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a news conference, saying gale  force winds of up to 55 mph (88 kph) were expected.
Some 2,400 sanitation workers were called in to clear snow  from the streets, Bloomberg said said.
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick declared a state of  emergency as much of New England braced for up to 20 inches (50  cm) of snowfall.
In one sign of the severity of the storm, an NFL football  game scheduled for Philadelphia was postponed, forcing the  Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings to reschedule their  game for Tuesday.
Conditions deteriorated steadily this afternoon in the  Boston area. Grocery stores were stripped of basic supplies  like milk and bread, and shoppers stocked up on firewood and  snow removal necessities such as shovels and ice melt.
A snow emergency was in place in Boston, meaning only  essential employees were being asked to work tomorrow.
After the southern United States was hit with a rare “White  Christmas,” snowstorms moved north where the major cities were  pelted with snow blowing sideways.
At least four airlines — United Continental Holdings’  United Airlines and Continental, Delta Air Lines and American  Airlines — said on their websites they were granting waivers  and rescheduling rights for people traveling through  northeastern U.S. airports this weekend.
Delta canceled about 850 flights, roughly one-sixth of its  schedule, while American and JetBlue Airways Corp each canceled  about 265 flights, airline representatives said.
Most of American’s cancellations were for flights after  mid-afternoon today, and the airline said it hoped to be up  and running again by mid-morning tomorrow.
JetBlue normally schedules some 750 flights daily in the  northeast. A spokeswoman said passengers ticketed for flights  through Tuesday would be allowed to rebook anytime through Jan.  14 without penalties.
A spokesman for United Airlines said it had 110  cancellations from its systemwide daily schedule of more than  3,000 flights, and Continental canceled 265 as of mid-morning  on Sunday. Continental’s cancellations chiefly affected its  Newark, New Jersey hub operations.
The Federal Aviation Administration’s real-time flight  tracker showed no delays at any of the major New York area  airports. In many cases, though, airlines appear to have  canceled flights rather than run the risk of delays.
“We’re not showing delays at Kennedy or Newark because  there’s been a great reduction in volume because of all the  cancellations,” an FAA spokeswoman said. “They’re keeping pace  with the flights that are out there.”
There have been some delays at LaGuardia, she said, because  of visibility issues.
A spokeswoman for the Port Authority of New York and New  Jersey, which runs the region’s airports, said all three  airports remained open but that there had been about 1,000  flights canceled.
The New York region’s bridges and tunnels remained opened  and in good order, she said, though the Staten Island bridges  have had reduced speed limits imposed due to the weather.

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