US battles to clear snow backlog


Many snow-bound streets remain unploughed in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn, New York City (AP)

Air, road and rail travellers hampered by a massive snowstorm in the north-eastern US are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel as the clear-up progresses and airlines try to catch up on backlogs.

Officials at the New York area’s three major airports said runways are now all open, but it might take days for all the passengers who’ve been camping out in terminals to get flights out.

More than 5,000 flights were cancelled at the three main airports in New York, 1,000 on Tuesday alone.

As airlines struggled to catch up, they dispatched planes to JFK airport without lining up gate space first, causing back-ups on the ground, said Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport.

Cathay Pacific spokesman Gus Whitcomb said the planes had taken off under the assumption that they would have somewhere to go upon landing. US airlines operating domestic flights are not allowed to keep passengers waiting on the tarmac for more than three hours, but international flights and foreign airlines are exempt from the rule.

At JFK’s Terminal 7, exhausted would-be travellers trapped in the airport for hours – or in some cases days – removed the rope barriers from a British Airways display advertising “new, roomier business class seats” and were sleeping in the model seating.

Airport staff said a small Starbucks counter had not reopened after running out of supplies on Sunday. One remaining vendor, a Subway sandwich shop, had huge queues throughout the day.

In snowbound neighbourhoods in New York, where hundreds of buses and dozens of ambulances got stuck in snowdrifts, unploughed roads are still hampering bus services. “It’s a bad situation and we’re working together to correct it,” New York mayor Michael Bloomberg said. Some 1,000 vehicles had been removed from three major New York City-area expressways alone, the mayor added.

Service on New York trains plagued by snow-generated signal problems and short-circuits is improving. But the Long Island Rail Road, the country’s largest commuter railway, has only seven of its 11 lines running.

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