NEW YORK, Dec 27, 2010 (AFP) - The US northeast began Monday to dig out from a powerful blizzard that shut down New York airports and crippled ground transport relied on by millions of holidaymakers and commuters.
The storm that started early Sunday began to abate Monday afternoon as blue skies finally reappeared, revealing a snow-and-ice encrusted region, deserted highways, stranded cars and still stuttering public transport.
Although the National Weather Service lifted its blizzard warning for the US northeast, the storm funneled into Canada, dealing the Atlantic coast a dose of the same snow and gale force winds.
In the hard-hit New York metropolitan area, businesses, home-owners and municipal services slowly got back on track and after almost 24 hours of being shut down, the three big area airports were struggling to their feet.
La Guardia Airport was open by late afternoon, with John F. Kennedy International Airport following shortly after, the Federal Aviation Administration said. Newark International in New Jersey was the last to reopen. Reopening times had been pushed back through the day as officials confronted the scale of the snowfall and dangerous wind. Even after reopening, huge delays were expected as airlines worked their way through the aftershock of thousands of cancelled flights.
Other airports in the region, including Boston and Philadelphia, remained open throughout, but with on-and-off delays. Ground transport was little better off.
The Amtrak rail network said it was resuming limited service between New York and Boston after blizzard conditions halted trains along the heavily used corridor for 13 hours.
But Amtrak warned passengers to "expect delays on travel throughout the day."
New York commuter routes and bus services were crippled, while roads made hazardous going for the few drivers who'd actually been able to escape their snow-clogged parking spaces.
In six states - Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Virginia - governors called up a total of 430 National Guard troops to help authorities get life back to normal.
In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg came under fire for what critics saw as a slow response to the well forecasted storm.
The commuter train line between the city and Long Island was paralyzed, as were portions of the city bus and subway systems, with ice and snow blocking tracks, and sometimes even collecting inside underground stations.
Buses, ambulances, taxis, and even police cars could be seen stranded in city streets. Although snow plows and salt spreaders attacked major arteries, side streets across whole neighborhoods remained buried in deep snow late into the day.
Newspaper kiosks and fruit stands that open in the bitterest cold and heaviest summer rains were shut. Some businesses, though, made the extra effort.
"People are snowed in, so they'll be needing food. Some others will be getting cabin fever and will want to come out," explained David Chiong, owner of Cascabel Taqueria, which does eat-in and take-outs of spicy Mexican food. Bloomberg said everything possible was being done.
"Our sanitation crews worked through the night but road conditions are bad and there are service interruptions and delays on mass transit. To keep the roads clear for plows and emergency crews, I encourage New Yorkers to avoid driving," he said.
He also pleaded with residents not to call the emergency services except in cases of genuine "life-threatening" situations. Calls to the 911 number had doubled, he said.
Officials in eastern Canada said the blizzard was already dumping heavy amounts of snow and forcing the cancellation of flights from Fredericton and Moncton. Some 40,000 homes lost electricity.
The weather service said "winds with gusts upwards of 55 miles (90 kilometers) per hour will cause widespread blowing snow, which will reduce visibilities to near zero in these regions." Some areas risked seeing ferocious winds of up to 90 miles (150 kilometers) per hour.
Americans in the southern United States were meanwhile treated to a rare white Christmas, with light to moderate snow blanketing communities in Alabama, Mississippi, and North Carolina.
Atlanta, Georgia enjoyed its first white Christmas in 128 years.