Nightly News   |  December 27, 2010

Northeast digs out of snow daze

The Northeast is digging out from a monster winter storm that's been disastrous for thousands of holiday travelers. NBC's Lester Holt reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> the place. this one was the real thing. and there are piles of snow throughout new york city . for that matter, throughout the eastern seaboard . this is what an average new york city side street looks like. piles of snow this big and larger. cars buried. the problem is, this isn't an average new york city side street . we're standing in the middle of 49th street , just near the base of the world famous 30 rock christmas tree where millions of people come to see this site every year. this churning blizzard starting in the south, came up through new york city . again, the mid-atlantic, all the way through new england. and this was a whiteout here at this time yesterday. a history maker , no doubt. records fell along the length of the storm. 80 million americans were impacted by the storm, and look at that stat, 35 million americans witnessed blizzard conditions. transportation completely paralyzed. trains, planes and automobiles, all of it came to a complete halt. highways blocked to traffic. air travel , forget it. at the end of the day , when the storm is all said and done, it's estimated 6,000 total flight cancellations, domestic and international. my colleague, lester holt out in it all day and starting things off for us tonight in manhattan. lester, good evening.

>> reporter: new york took the hardest hit from this, about 20 inches in the area i'm standing. up to 2 1/2 feet in other parts of the metropolitan area . keep in mind, all of this in the back of some pierce and howling winds. therefore, a city that usually prides itself on jumping back from these sorts of things rather quickly finds itself still struggling to recover tonight. the big apple woke up this morning frozen in time. the storm dropped up to three inches of snow an hour at times. too much for nows to keep up with. it even lit up the skies with lightning and sent claps of thunder booming over manhattan. it was a one-two punch that turned the storm into a blinding blizzard.

>> a lot of snow, but have we seen winds like this before?

>> it was the combination of the two. may believe you go back in history a hundred years or so, but it's been a long time since we've seen a some of 60 miles an hour winds and 20 inches of snow.

>> reporter: states of emergency were declared in at least six states from the carolinas up through new england. snow totals range from 12.4 inches in philadelphia, to just over 19 inches in massachusetts. the new york area was hardest hit, with 29 inches on staten island , and 32 in nearby new jersey. normally bustling, new york streets were littered with abandoned cars, buses and emergency vehicles . tonight, the city's ems city is reportedly overwhelmed with a backlog of calls.

>> not enough people listened to oured our admonition.

>> reporter: passengers stranded for six hours sent photos and reports by cell phone to new york one television.

>> it is very, very cold.

>> reporter: the tomorrow barreled up out of the south yesterday and for a time it was virtually the only thing moving up the i-95 corridor. amtrak canceled new york -boston service. airlines canceled 1,400 flights in new york on sunday. all three new york airports remained closed well into this afternoon.

>> we've been waiting for this trip all christmas break .

>> reporter: in massachusetts, toppled power lines left tens of thousands without power and made it difficult for firefighters to save this burning house in brockton.

>> it's a nightmare. that's the word.

>> reporter: dangerous conditions in philadelphia, even forced postponement of last night's scheduled game between the eagles and minnesota.

>> the reason this game has been postponed until tuesday is out of concern for public safety . travel in and around. that's the reason, not what we're seeing here.

>> reporter: here in new york tonight, the head of the union that represents ems workers says because so many ambulances are stuck, response times are up to three hours for emergency calls here, brian, adding more urgency to clearing this city's 6,000 miles of streets.

>> lester holt on this cold night a few blocks away from our location here in new york . lester, thanks.