WASHINGTON — Crews in Maryland rescued motorists stranded on highways and utility workers scrambled to restore power to more than 100,000 customers after a powerful storm disrupted the lives of some 50 million people from the southern plains up through the East Coast.
In one dramatic rescue, a mother and three children were able to return home Thursday after spending the night in their van after the vehicle stalled in a snowbank., NBC News reported. Fire and rescue crews worked to free other stranded motorists who were hit hard in Thurmont, Md.
Snowbound airports resumed limited operations but many school systems in the path of Wednesday's storm remained closed for a second day, including in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., although New York City school children headed back to class after only their third snow day in six years.
In Washington, D.C., the federal government was closed for a fourth straight day. The nation's capital joined Philadelphia and Baltimore in logging their snowiest winters in history.
Complaints about politicians
Washington's mayor and other politicians are feeling the heat for not moving faster to clear the streets.
D.C. Councilman Kwame Brown turned to Twitter to press Mayor Adrian Fenty to move faster in plowing, removing trash and pursuing federal assistance.
A Washington Examiner editorial Thursday declared, "Mayor Fenty fails the snow test," noting that stores and other businesses that rely on private snow removal services cleared their property more quickly than the city did.
The mayor, whose job approval rating was already in the 40s in a Washington Post poll in January, told The Hill newspaper that he will try to improve snow removal by expanding agreements with private contractors and keeping equipment better maintained.
"I'd say give us another 24 hours. You'll probably see a lot of normal operations of government. Then we have a nice, long weekend and the city should be back on its feet by Tuesday," the mayor said on CBS' "Early Show."
Slideshow: Monster snowfall Some politicians took responsibility for the problems but also emphasized the historic nature of the snowstorms. This is now the snowiest winter on record in Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia.
"This would overwhelm any city, anywhere, in terms of residential streets," said Washington Councilman Jim Graham.
Paul Kocin, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Washington, D.C., said the storm compares to some of the greatest ever largely because of its timing. He estimated 50 million people were affected.
"The big difference is that it occurred within a week and a half of three other storms," Kocin said. "The combination of storms is almost unprecedented — the amount of snow, the amount of impact."
The latest storm dumped nearly 16 inches in Philadelphia, about 20 inches in central New Jersey, and totals ranged from 10 to 16 inches around New York City.
In western Maryland, workers were trying to reach about 50 people who were stuck overnight in vehicles on U.S. 340 and U.S. 15 in drifts of 6 to 8 feet.
Yue-Chung Siu, 25, got up early to be at work at his family's bagel store in Philadelphia by 5:30 a.m. Thursday. He said his normal 30 minute commute from Bensalem turned into an hour and 45 minutes because of detours and poorly plowed roads.
He recalled the record-breaking blizzard of January 1996.
"I was a little kid, so I had a lot of fun," Siu said. "Now, it's like half-fun, half-hassle."
The storm had halted flights throughout the mid-Atlantic region, but by Thursday morning flights began to arrive at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. Both of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport's two main runways reopened, but officials warned that flight cancellations would continue through the morning because of the storm.
One primary runway was open at Philadelphia International Airport on Thursday morning and a second should open by 9 a.m., said airport spokeswoman Victoria Lupica.
Wild Nor’easterCrews have been working to clear runways and taxiways around the clock and airlines are resuming limited schedules of flights in and out of Philadelphia.
Officials expect the airlines to cancel some scheduled flights but conditions are fine for flying in Philadelphia, Lupica said.
In Philadelphia, road crews worked to clear Interstate 76 and I-676, which closed Wednesday to leave the city of 1.5 million residents with only one usable major artery. Authorities reopened the two routes Thursday morning.
The D.C. Department of Transportation urged motorists to stay off city streets Thursday morning to keep them clear for emergency response, tree and road crews.
Emergency officials in eastern Pennsylvania reported more than 200 vehicles, mostly trucks, were stranded Wednesday along I-78. Officials said gasoline, food and water were delivered to the stranded drivers before plows could clear paths for them by midnight, but the roadway remained closed on Thursday.
In northeast Maryland, staffers at the Harford County Emergency Operations Center fielded several calls per minute from residents struggling to meet the financial demands of a second snowstorm just days after the first. One woman called to say she couldn't afford to stay at her motel another night and was about to be evicted. Homeless shelters were full, forcing the county to pay for motel rooms for some people.
"We really can't have people pushed out into the snow," said Scott Gibson, the county's director of human resources. "The motels are our second line of defense."
Electric crews in New Jersey were working to restore power to about 46,000 homes and businesses that lost electricity. NJ Transit agency resumed bus routes Thursday morning and opened nearly all train stations so residents could try to get to work.
For many families, the first storm was a fun weekend diversion. People even went skiing past Washington's monuments. But Wednesday's blizzard quickly became a serious safety concern. The Pennsylvania governor shut down some highways and warned that people who drove were risking their lives.
As of Wednesday, Baltimore had 72.3 inches so far this winter, the Washington area had 54.9 inches and Philadelphia had 70.3 inches. The previous records for snowiest winters were 62.5 inches in Baltimore in 1995-96; 54.4 inches in Washington in 1898-99; and 65.5 inches in Philadelphia in 1995-96.
More than 100,000 utility customers in Pennsylvania were without power. Some never got it back after the last storm. More than 11,000 customers in Virginia were still in the dark.
But the news wasn't all bad. Washington has not had a homicide in a week. Ski areas were doing brisk business, when people could get to them. And private contractors were making money plowing driveways and parking lots.
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