Snow storm on Christmas leaves travelers stranded

By Alex Davidson

A Christmas snowfall that blanketed the city and made for a picturesque white Christmas also left travelers stranded at airports, residents without power and commuters dealing with tough road conditions.

The winter storm dumped 9.7 inches in Queens Village, 9.8 inches in Floral Park, 5 inches in Manhattan and 6.1 inches at LaGuardia, according to a National Weather Service spokesman in Albany.

People hoping to either visit relatives or just get home on Christmas Day were stranded at the borough’s airports, with many waiting at LaGuardia, where some passengers still were not booked on a flight the day after the holiday.

“Our hotel and dinner cost almost as much as our two tickets,” said M. Focazio, who spent $234 on two tickets to Detroit on Spirit Airlines, and then had to spend $170 for a hotel room plus more than $30 on dinner when his flight was canceled because of the weather. “This morning, we got here at 9:30 p.m. and they hadn’t even booked us on another flight.”

Focazio and his wife, who arrived at 10:30 a.m. Christmas Day for a plane to Detroit that morning, were hoping to leave on an afternoon flight more than 24 hours later. But the couple doubted the plane would take off because of previous delays. They had tried to board one plane with mechanical problem and then got on another, which taxied to the runway and then returned to the gate because of the snow.

The couple said some people were stranded at the airport and slept on cots provided by the Port Authority. They said Spirit Airlines had told them they would probably be able to leave New York on the scheduled afternoon flight.

“That’s what they told us, but that’s what they said about the other ones,” he said.

A stranded 23-year-old passenger said after her 4:30 p.m. Christmas AirTran flight was canceled, she waited until 9 a.m. when the airline closed its ticket counters without offering any information.

“I have absolutely nothing to do,” she said about a flight to Atlanta yet to materialize. “We’re just waiting.”

Alan Hicks, a Port Authority spokesman, said LaGuardia operated with some delays the day after Christmas but that Newark and John F. Kennedy airports were running smoothly.

He said his agency issued about 100 cots on Christmas Day and that LaGuardia had closed its runways but not the terminals.

For those who chose to stay home, however, the problems were different.

Two technical problems on Christmas Day knocked out power to more than 29,000 customers on the Rockaway peninsula for eight minutes, said Long Island Power Authority spokesman Bert Cunningham.

The first incident just before 6 p.m. resulted from a faulty transmission connection cable. It affected 13,783 customers in Rockaway Beach and lasted five hours, Cunningham said. The second took place at 7:42 p.m., and affected 15,650 additional customers, but lasted only about eight minutes, he said.

“The main item here is that the repair was made and that the component has been replaced,” Cunningham said of the first incident. He said the first outage was possibly weather-related and the second was definitely connected to the winter storm.

Eventually both outages effectively shut down power to the entire Rockaway peninsula, Cunningham said.

Unlike the airports, there were no delays for commuters taking the Long Island Rail Road, said Sam Zambuto, spokesman for the LIRR. He said service was virtually the same throughout the storm, though the snow caused some minor delays.

There were few incidents on roadways in Queens and around the rest of the city, said city Department of Sanitation spokesman Keith Mellis, because officials knew the storm was coming and had sent out some 353 salting trucks to prepare for the worst.

“We handled this storm like troupers,” said Mellis.

Mellis said although the city has not had such an extensive storm in years, his agency was ready because it conducts training throughout the year to prepare for such events.

The city Department of Transportation, which oversees the Queensborough, Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, said commuters were also aided by the de-icing trucks that operated around the clock to ensure there were no major accidents.

“Everything was great,” said spokeswoman Lisi de Bourbon, “Our bridges were great.”

De Bourbon said the bridges were clear and commuters had an easier time getting around the city because of the constant salting and plowing by city workers, but also because the city got less snow than the rest of the state.

For those at LaGuardia, however, time passed much slower than for others trying to get around on the roads or railways.

One man heading home to Norfolk, Va., said there was little he could do about when his flight would take off.

“I’ve just been sleeping,” he said about passing the time, not knowing the day after Christmas when his airline would book him on a new flight.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 156

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