Photos: The East Coast digs out

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  1. Snow covers the tarmac at John F. Kennedy International Airport's Terminal 4 on Tuesday, Dec. 28, in New York City. Flights have slowly started to resume in New York but lines to rebook have been long. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. People sleep and eat on the floor while waiting for a flight at Terminal 4 of John F. Kennedy International Airport Tuesday. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A New Jersey Transit train arrives at the Princeton Junction station Tuesday in West Windsor, N.J. (Mel Evans / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A front-end loader removes snow in New York's Times Square on Tuesday ahead of New Year festivities. (Stan Honda / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A doorman shovels a path on the east side of Manhattan on Tuesday after the blizzard dropped 20 inches of snow in the area. (Stan Honda / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Dave Duncan sits in his Honda Civic, buried on the street, in Asbury Park, N.J., on Tuesday. (Beth Defalco / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Travelers wait in ticketing lines at New York's LaGuardia airport on Tuesday. (Don Emmert / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Icicles melt in the afternoon sun as temperatures rise into the high 30s Tuesday in Hamilton, N.J. (Mel Evans / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. This traveler at Miami International Airport was among the many waiting Tuesday for flights after the Northeast blizzard caused backups across the country. (Jeffrey Boan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A young person sleds down a snow covered hill at Belmont Plateau in Philadelphia on Monday. A blizzard pummeled the Northeast on Monday, dumping up to 29 inches of snow, disrupting air and rail travel and challenging motorists with blowing snow and icy roads at the end of the busy Christmas weekend. New York City, eastern New Jersey and western Long Island were the hardest hit by the storm. (Matt Rourke / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Travelers carry their luggage through a snow bank on 7th Ave. in front of Penn Station after a snow storm in New York, Dec. 27. A blizzard pummeled the Northeast on Monday, dumping up to 29 inches of snow, disrupting air and rail travel and challenging motorists with blowing snow and icy roads at the end of the busy Christmas weekend. New York City, eastern New Jersey and western Long Island were the hardest hit by the storm. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A windswept beach looks desolate following a snow storm on Monday in Westport, Conn. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Children play on a mound of snow on The Boardwalk, Dec. 27, in Atlantic City, N.J. (Mel Evans / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Gregg Smith shovels out after a heavy snowfall in the Boston suburb of Marlborough, Mass., Dec. 27. A powerful East Coast blizzard menaced would-be travelers by air, rail and highway Monday, leaving thousands without a way to get home after the holidays. (Bill Sikes / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Alexa Canning and Talia Quinn fly through the air after hitting a jump on their sleds in Norfolk, Massachusetts. (Matt Campbell / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A man shovels snow on a street along the Brooklyn waterfront, Dec. 27, in New York City. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Commuters, who were trapped over night, sit on parked trains at Penn Station in New York City on Monday. (Andrew Gombert / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A woman exercises in a snow covered pasture in Durham, N.C., Monday, after a powerful East Coast blizzard that moved through Christmas day. (Jim R. Bounds / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A strong gust of wind blows snow in front of a man in Philadelphia, Monday. (Matt Rourke / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. A woman walks her dog between snowed-in taxicabs following a major blizzard in Manhattan's Greenwich Village on Monday in New York City. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Elena Amaral shovels steps at Trinity College during the storm in Hartford, Conn., Monday. (Jessica Hill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A homeowner clears snow from the end of his driveway, Dec. 27, in Norfolk, Mass., following the blizzard which brought more than a foot of snow in the Boston area. The storm dumped snow from Atlanta, Ga. to Maine. (Matt Campbell / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Michael Howard of Albany, N.Y., shovels out his vehicle on Monday. (Mike Groll / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. A woman walks through the snow in Manhattan's East Village in the early hours of Monday. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A New Jersey state trooper arrives to help after cars crash during heavy snowfall on Sunday near Columbus, N.J. (Mel Evans / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A worker clears snow from the seats at the Philadelphia Eagles stadium. (Tim Shaffer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. The storm moved up from the south, where areas like Raleigh, N.C., saw snow over the weekend as well. (Jim R. Bounds / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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msnbc.com news services
updated 12/26/2010 9:43:26 PM ET 2010-12-27T02:43:26

The first widespread blizzard of the season slammed the northeastern United States on the heavily traveled Christmas weekend Sunday, canceling more than 1,500 flights, shutting the Amtrak passenger rail and challenging motorists on icy roads.

The Atlantic storm unleashed powerful winds as it moved up the coast, dumping a foot of sideways-blowing snow on some areas with more expected up to the morning commute Monday. Massachusetts and Maine declared states of emergency with only essential workers asked to work in Boston.

New York area airports including JFK International were closed Sunday evening but were expected to reopen early Monday as the brunt of the storm moved north.

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.

The sport loves to glorify great games in snow, but public safety became an issue with the weather service forecasting 15 to 25 inches of snowfall in many areas.

On one of the busiest travel days of the year, 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.

Story: Your images of East Coast blizzard

"We left the day after Christmas to avoid the Christmas craze. I guess that didn't work out so well," said Colleen James of Montclair, N.J. She, her husband, their two young children and their dachshund were at Newark Airport trying to reach family in Iowa, but their connecting flight to Chicago was delayed more than two and a half hours.

Her husband, Graham James, was resigning himself to postponing their trip a month. "Now we're worried about just driving home because of the crazy snow," Graham James said.

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Bus companies also canceled routes up and down the East Coast, affecting thousands of travelers.

Kate Lindquist, on her way home from New Hampshire to New York City, was greeted with a handwritten sign at a Boston bus station: "Sorry, we are closed today."

"To have this happen on a Sunday during a holiday weekend is incredibly frustrating," she told the AP in an e-mail.

Delta Air Lines canceled 850 flights, about one-sixth of its schedule, and American Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Continental Airlines canceled roughly 265 flights each and United Airlines 110, airline representatives said.

"We expect there will be cancellations in the Northeast, including New York and Boston, through the morning tomorrow," Kent Landers, Delta spokesman, said. "As we get into the afternoon and certainly by Tuesday morning we are aiming to resume normal operations throughout the East Coast."

A spokesman for United Airlines, said it could add more flights Monday to accommodate stranded passengers, but final decisions were due later in the evening.

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U.S. Airways began canceling flights Saturday evening and canceled more Sunday for a total of 679 mainline and regional express flights. It canceled 110 Monday flights, mainly in Northeast cities including Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

The earlier cancellations were being done to try to avoid both passengers and crews getting stranded at airports, said spokesman Jim Olson.

Frustrated travelers
At Washington's Reagan National Airport, Rob Kotlarz of Surrey, England, was trying to fly his children Sofia and Stefan to Orlando, Fla., to visit Disney World.

"Of all the flights to Orlando today the only one that was cancelled was our 3:10 p.m. ... and the US Airways help line was impossible," he said. "But we were expecting America to show us how to handle weather. We showed up seven hours early so we could be here. In this digital age why can't an airline handle it better?"

In London, Heathrow Airport was open Sunday, but warned on its website of flight cancellations and delays due to bad weather in the U.S. Fifteen British Airways flights out of Heathrow to the U.S. were canceled, including ones to New York's JFK airport, Newark, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington Dulles airport.

The Northeast was getting the brunt of the storm. Forecasters issued a blizzard warning for New York City for Sunday and Monday, with a forecast of 11 to 16 inches of snow and strong winds that will reduce visibility to near zero at times. A blizzard warning was also in effect for Rhode Island and most of eastern Massachusetts including Boston, with forecasters predicting 15 to 20 inches of snow. A blizzard warning is issued when snow is accompanied by sustained winds or gusts over 35 mph.

Officials warned travelers to stay off the roads. "The roads are slippery and the visibility is poor," Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano told New York's Channel 2.

After the southern United States was hit with a rare "White Christmas" Saturday, the snowstorms plowed to the northeast, where the major coastal cities were engulfed in blowing snow.

Traffic moved slowly on the region's highways, though New York-area bridges and tunnels remained open and in good order, a spokeswoman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said. Some bridges had reduced speed limits imposed.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter declared a snow emergency as of 2 p.m. Sunday, and he urged residents to stay off the roads.

In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino declared a snow emergency that bans parking on all major streets, and the New England Aquarium bubble-wrapped its four 5-foot-tall penguin ice sculptures to protect them from the wind and snow.

More than 2,400 sanitation workers were working in 12-hour shifts to clear New York City's 6,000 miles of streets. Not that Mayor Michael Bloomberg wanted people to use them.

"I understand that a lot of families need to get home after a weekend away, but please don't get on the roads unless you absolutely have to," Bloomberg said.

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In Rhode Island, emergency officials encouraged businesses to let employees report to work late Monday, saying road conditions for the early morning commute Monday would be treacherous.

The snow was easier to enjoy for people with no place to go. As the wind swirled snow through the doors of a Brooklyn supermarket, New Yorkers hurried to pick up a few staples before heading back home to hunker down.

Slideshow: The East Coast digs out (on this page)

"I'm seeing it as a great excuse to stay in and relax and drink tea," said Toni Gifford, who works in academics and has the week off.

"Love snowy days when I don't have to go anywhere. Staying in — just me and my cozy new socks," author Neesha Meminger wrote on Twitter from her home in the Bronx.

She told the AP she's able to savor the moment because her children, ages 6 and 9, are on holiday break: "If this was during the school week, I would be cursing."

The weather deterred some people from hitting day-after-Christmas sales, but that appeared to be a relatively light blow for retailers coming off a strong shopping season.

"People will just wait a day to do exchanges and use their gift cards. It's no big deal," said Greg Maloney, CEO of the retail practice of Jones Lang LaSalle, which manages malls across the country.

The monster storm is the result of a low pressure system off the North Carolina coast and was strengthening as it moved northeast, according to the National Weather Service.

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Travel misery began a day earlier in parts of the South, which was hit with a white Christmas for the record books. Columbia, S.C., had its first significant Christmas snow since weather records were first kept in 1887. Atlanta had just over an inch of snow — the first measurable accumulation on Christmas Day since the 1880s.

The North Carolina Highway Patrol said late Saturday that most of the roads in and around Asheville were either covered or partially covered with snow and ice.

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"We're busy," Ryan Dean of Dean's Wrecker Service in Raleigh, N.C., said Sunday. "We've been out since 3 in the morning pulling people out of the ditch."

The National Weather Service said 8.5 inches of snow fell in Franklinton, N.C., about 30 miles north of Raleigh, from Saturday through Sunday.

Diane Smith, 55, said her power was out for about four hours there Sunday morning, but she and her husband have a generator. Relatives, including two grandchildren, who live nearby came over for breakfast and to get warm before going home after power was restored.

"It's beautiful," Smith said. "As long as I have power, I love it."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Winter blast puts the brakes on holiday travel

  1. Closed captioning of: Winter blast puts the brakes on holiday travel

    >>> on the air tonight, the first major snowstorm of the winter is walloping the east coast with dangerous blizzard conditions, and it's putting the brakes on a lot of post-christmas travel plans, he is sperlly by air. here's what it looks like in philadelphia where the storm has forced a rare postponement of tonight's nfl game, and you can see why in that picture. we'll show you times square in new york city . all part of the same system that blanketed parts of the south yesterday. the latest radar images show the storm extending northward predicting to dump up to two feet of snow across many areas by tomorrow night with drifts blowing even higher. we have a lot of folks out covering the storm tonight. we begin with peter alexander at la kward ya airport.

    >> reporter: conditions are deteriorating. to give you a sense how strong it is, american airlines has canceled nearly all of the flights out of the entire northeast until 10:00 tomorrow morning . this powerful blizzard causes stal states of emergency from north carolina to massachusetts. out of control, a frightening highway scene repeated countless times as the fierce wirntd storm pounds the east coast , danger on the roads, paralysis in the skies. a punishing blast of snows and winds with gusts reaches 50 miles per hour stranding holiday travelers like judy strat ton and her family.

    >> we're debating to get a hotel room or up troupers and stay all night here.

    >> reporter: us air nearly 700 as well as delta with 850 and counting. the airlines have halted in trans atlantic flights from london and paris, too. among those hardest hit passengers looking to get in and out of new york where more than 1,000 flights were scratched today. no leaf on the rails either with amtrak shutting down the service between boston and new york through at least tomorrow morning . the blizzard for sunday night's showdown between the vikings and eagles to be postponed until tuesday night. the first tuesday game in 64 years. across boston where close to two feet are forecast, an army of plows and sand rerz rolling out, while new york city residents stock up and hunker down.

    >> i don't have a shovel, i'm not going anywhere for a couple of days, i think.

    >> reporter: the first white christmas for atlanta in more than a century, leaving behind treacherous conditions for millions of americans driving home.

    >> four-wheel drive and going slower and mind our ps and qs and we'll be all right i hope.

    >> reporter: a dangerous winter storm and urgent warning, stay off the roads if you can.

    >> it's a double-whammy for the nation's highways and roadways.

    >> reporter: also tonight for air travelers, most airlines are waiving those rebooking fees in the affected areas. they encourage passengers to make changes lester to do that online.

    >> peter alexander in new york

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