NEW YORK // Thousands of travellers trying to get home after the holiday weekend sat bored and bleary-eyed in airports and shivered aboard stuck buses and subway trains, stranded by a blizzard that slammed the US northeast with more than 60 centimetres of snow.
The storm worked its way up the coast from the Carolinas to Maine with winds up to 130kph that whirled the snow into deep drifts across streets, railroad tracks and runways.
Snowfall totals included 30 centimetres in Tidewater, Virginia, and Philadelphia, 74 centimetres in parts of northern New Jersey, 60 centimetres north of New York City, and more than 46 centimetres in Boston.
The storm closed all three of the New York metropolitan area's airports Sunday and stymied most other means of transportation. Buses sputtered to a halt in snow drifts. Trains stopped in their tracks. Taxi drivers abandoned their cabs in the middle of New York's snow-clogged streets. Even the New York City subway system - usually dependable during a snowstorm - broke down in spots, trapping passengers for hours.
By Monday evening, planes had begun landing at Kennedy and LaGuardia airports. Flights were expected to begin arriving at the airport in Newark, New Jersey, later in the night.
A Royal Jordanian flight touched down shortly before 7pm (0000 GMT) at John F. Kennedy International Airport, the first to arrive since the blizzard hit, said Steve Coleman, of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airports.
Just before an Air Canada flight from Toronto touched down at LaGuardia Airport about 40 minutes later, the captain came over the loudspeaker and informed passengers that it was the first to land at the airport since the blizzard hit.
"Everyone was clapping toward the end," said Patrick Wacker, 37, who had been stranded in Toronto for a day while trying to get back to New York after visiting his parents in Frankfurt, Germany.
Wacker and other passengers said there was some turbulence on landing and the plane had to be towed to the gate because it couldn't get through the snow on the runway.
Countless cold, hungry and tired passengers were hunkered down in airports, train stations and bus depots. Some were given cots and blankets. Others used their luggage as pillows, curled into chairs, or made beds by spreading towels on the floor or overturning the plastic bins used for sending items through airport security.
"People are exhausted. They want to get home," sighed Eric Schorr, marooned at New York's Kennedy Airport since Sunday afternoon by the storm.
Some airline passengers could be stuck for days. Many planes are booked solid because of the busy holiday season, and airlines are operating fewer flights because of the economic downturn.
As bad as the storm was, it could have been worse if it had been an ordinary work day. Children are home from school all week on Christmas vacation, and lots of people had taken off from work.
Many youngsters went out and frolicked in the snow, some of them using the sleds they got for Christmas.
The storm was New York City's sixth worst since 1869, when records began, said Adrienne Leptich, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
A February 11 and 12 storm in 2006 dropped 68.3 centimetres of snow on Central Park, breaking the previous record, set in 1947, by 1.25 centimetres.
Many side streets in the city remained unplowed well into the day Monday, and pedestrians stumbled over drifts and trudged through knee-deep snow in some places. Numerous people simply gave up trying to use the sidewalks, instead walking down the middle of partially plowed streets. Some New Yorkers complained that snowplow crews were neglecting neighbourhoods in the outer boroughs in favor of Manhattan.
A testy Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the city's cleanup effort, saying the furious pace of the snowfall - 5 to 7.5 centimetres per hour - required crews to plow streets repeatedly to keep them open. And abandoned cars slowed the process further because plows could not get through, he said.
"It's being handled by the best professionals in the business," Bloomberg said, urging people not to get upset. "It's a snowstorm, and it really is inconvenient for a lot of people."
At the Manchester Boston Regional Airport outside Manchester, New Hampshire, 25-year-old Alicia Kinney slept overnight on benches in the baggage claim area before moving to the food court for a soda in the morning.
"I'm trying to stay positive," she said.
The blizzard had a ripple effect on air travel, stranding thousands of people at airports around the country.
In New York, many passengers tired of waiting around couldn't have left even if they wanted to. Taxis were hard to find, and many airport shuttles and trains were also a lost cause.
"There's literally no way to leave," said Jason Cochran of New York City, stuck at Kennedy.
Yoann Uzan of France, on a first-ever trip to New York City with his girlfriend, said their airline had promised to put passengers up at hotels overnight. "But we waited for the shuttle buses to take us there, and then the buses couldn't get through because of the weather, so we were stuck here," he said.
Passengers stuck at New York City's main bus terminal - where all service was cancelled - tried to get some sleep as they awaited word on when buses might start rolling again.
"It's really, really cold here," said 12-year-old Terry Huang. "The luggage was really hard to sleep on. It was hard and lumpy."
Two passenger buses headed back to New York City from the Atlantic City, New Jersey, casinos became stuck on New Jersey's Garden State Parkway. State troopers, worried about diabetics aboard, brought water and food as emergency workers worked to free the vehicles.
In Virginia, the National Guard had to rescue three people trapped in a car for more than four hours in the Eastern Shore area.
Not even professional hockey players could beat the frozen conditions. The Toronto Maple Leafs, after defeating the New Jersey Devils 4-1 in Newark, New Jersey, on Sunday got stuck in traffic for four hours on their way to the team hotel. It was supposed to be a 20-minute ride. Center Tyler Bozak tweeted in one middle-of-the-night dispatch: "Roads closed in new jersey stuck on the bussss. Brutaallll!!"
Christopher Mullen was among the New York City subway riders stranded for several hours aboard a cold train Monday near Kennedy Airport in the borough of Queens. "I just huddled with my girlfriend. We just tried to stay close," he said.
The train was stopped by snow drifts on the tracks and ice on the electrified third rail. It took hours to rescue the passengers because crews first tried to push the train, and when that didn't work, a snow-covered diesel locomotive had to be dug out of a railyard and brought in to move it.
Getting around cities in the Northeast was an adventure. In one Brooklyn neighborhood, cars drove the wrong way up a one-way street because it was the only plowed thoroughfare in the area. In Philadelphia, pedestrians dodged chunks of ice blown off skyscrapers.
New York taxi driver Shafqat Hayat spent the night in his cab on 33rd Street in Manhattan, unable to move his vehicle down the unplowed road. "I've seen a lot of snow before, but on the roads, I've never seen so many cars stuck in 22 years," he said.