BLIZZARD ’15: Five states declare emergencies as storm approaches

Airports, Highways, Cities Close as Historic Northeast Blizzard Looms

  • Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York have implemented overnight travel restrictions.
  • Seven states have made emergency declarations.
  • New York’s LaGuardia Airport will shut down Tuesday

Tens of millions of people in the Northeast hunkered down on Monday for a historic blizzard that was expected to drop more than 2 feet of snow, whipped around by winds approaching hurricane force — enough to bring New York, Boston and most of the northeast corridor to an eerie standstill.

More than 7,000 flights were scrapped, and the major airlines warned that practically nothing would take off or land in New York, Boston and Philadelphia as the worst of the storm sweeps in overnight and Tuesday morning.

Store shelves emptied, schools shut their doors, and authorities either pleaded with people to stay home or outright closed the roads to all but emergency vehicles.

The snow began to lighten up in New York around 8 p.m., but Mayor Bill de Blasio warned residents not to drop their vigilance. He cited forecasts for snow to fall at a rate of 2 to 4 inches per hour overnight, although meteorologists later predicted only about 1- 2 inches per hour in the city around midnight.

By 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, there was 5.5 inches on the ground in New York’s Central Park, with forecasts for an additional 5 to 8 inches, according to The Weather Channel. Boston’s Logan Airport had 2.3 inches after midnight with 15-24″ more expected, and Hartford, Conn., had 2 inches with another 10-16″ on the way.

“This snow is going to come in very fast. There’ll be fast accumulation, there’ll be drifts, there’ll be visibility problems, there’ll be high winds,” de Blasio said, adding that gusts in the city could surpass 60 mph. “That is a dangerous situation.”

City subways and suburban commuter rails stopped running at 11 p.m. ET Monday under orders from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. A road travel restriction began at the same time, meaning that all cars other than emergency vehicles were banned in 13 counties, including those in New York City and Long Island.

“It’s dangerous to be out there now. It’s going to get more dangerous. And at one point it’s irresponsible,” Cuomo said.

A similar travel ban in New Jersey began at 11 p.m. ET, Gov. Chris Christie announced. The move excludes emergency and public safety personnel, utility companies and others assisting in storm recovery. It will be “subject to revocation at daybreak depending on conditions then,” Christie said on Twitter.

Boston suspended all public transit for Tuesday and Massachusetts officials pleaded for people to go home and keep put. “The bottom line is it’s going to be the kind of night where the best thing anyone can do is to stay inside,” Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said.

Amtrak suspended Tuesday service on many of its busiest lines, including the Northeast Regional and Acela Express between New York and Boston.

No flights will arrive at or depart from LaGuardia Airport in New York on Tuesday, while “minimal flight activity” is expected at the region’s other airports, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said.

At John F. Kennedy Airport, passengers on at least one outbound Virgin Atlantic flight had to sit on the tarmac for about 6 hours before being stuck back at the terminal.

“There’s nothing to drink, nothing to eat. It’s a disaster,” said Alexis Dehasse, a music producer who was aboard Flight VS4 to London, which was supposed to take off at 6:30 p.m. but dumped passengers back at the gate after midnight after dealing with de-icing and a sick passenger.

ALEXIS DEHASSE
Travelers wait at JFK airport early Tuesday, Jan. 27 after a Virgin Atlantic flight was cancelled after six hours on the tarmac.

Dehasse said he had a friend in town he could stay with — but road closures meant there was no way to leave the airport. “I’m coming down with the flu,” he told NBC News. “It’s a nightmare.”

Another passenger, Felix Kunze, 29, a Brooklyn photographer going to England for a visit, said the airline just handed out $15 vouchers for McDonald’s, the only thing open.

“I can’t even get back to Brooklyn. I have friends who will come get me but they can’t because the roads are closed.” Asked to sum up the experience he said, “It was hopeful, hopeful, hopeful right up until the last minute with the most crushing final defeat of horror.”

Non-essential vehicles in New York, including cabs and delivery bicycles, were ordered off the streets at 11 p.m. ET. “This will most likely be one of the largest blizzards in the history of New York City,” Mayor de Blasio said. “This is not a typical storm. It’s going to pack a punch. What you’re going to see in a few hours is something that hits very hard and very fast.”

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