ASBURY PARK, N.J. (AP/CBS New York) – Travel and weather conditions were slowly improving in New Jersey on Monday, a day after the season’s first major snowstorm dumped more than two feet of snow in some areas and stranded hundreds of people, including roughly 100 bus passengers marooned on a highway for several hours overnight.
But authorities were still urging people to stay off the roadways, noting they had made dozens of rescues since early Sunday. They also were working to remove hundreds of stuck and abandoned vehicles that were hampering snow removal efforts, mostly on the entrance and exit ramps of the state’s major highways.
Among those rescued were passengers on two buses that were headed from Atlantic City to Manhattan when they became stuck around 6 p.m. Sunday in the express lanes of the Garden State Parkway in Holmdel. One bus was finally freed just before 7 a.m. Monday, while those aboard the second bus were put on other buses around 11:30 a.m. Monday and driven to safety.
Sgt. Stephen Jones, a state police spokesman, said each bus had about 50 people on board, including some diabetics and elderly people. When ambulances could not reach the buses, mostly due to abandoned vehicles blocking the road and snow drifts of up to five feet, state troopers bought water and food and gave the items to passengers who were feeling ill or lightheaded.
“Most of the people are pretty calm, but they were getting antsy,” said trooper Chris Menello, who was among those trying to aid the passengers. Fortunately, the buses had enough fuel to keep running overnight, and passengers were able to remain warm and somewhat comfortable.
Menello said the traffic jam started around 5 p.m. Sunday evening with a woman who went into labor in a car. Traveling with the woman were her husband and their three small children.
An ambulance was able to reach the woman and bring her to the nearby Bayshore Medical Center so she could have her baby, Menello said. But by then the Parkway had become a parking lot, with accumulating snow preventing people from digging out.
When the woman’s husband pulled their car to the side of the road, a log jam started, eventually stranding both passenger buses, as well as about 30 vehicles and a tractor-trailer in the express lanes.
The snow was so bad along the shore, that even tow trucks needed help.
“We’re sending out front-loaders to the tow yards to get them out,” said Menello, who said the storm was the worst he’s encountered in his five years with the state police. “It’s harsher and faster than anything I’ve seen.”
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, serving as acting governor with Gov. Chris Christie and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno out of state, declared a state of emergency Sunday night and initially ordered that government offices open two hours late Monday.
But Sweeney decided Monday morning to close the offices for the day, citing the treacherous travel conditions. The storm also shuttered the state’s court system, and most businesses in the state were closed for at least part of the day
“It’s been a real battle,” said Sweeney, who was governing Monday from his office in Westville. “The biggest problem now is the wind.”
Sweeney said hundreds of stranded motorists have been rescued, some after spending 10 or 12 hours in their cars.
“If you’re in your house, it’s the best place you can be,” he said. “We’re urging people to stay home.”
Dangerous conditions were reported across the state Monday.
Jones said I-280 in northern Jersey was closed in both directions and had been intermittently since Sunday night. He said troopers were turning cars around to prevent more from becoming stuck on a hill in West Orange.
Troopers rescued several stranded passengers from the road Sunday night, Jones said, and brought them to a high school in West Orange.
Transportation Commissioner James Simpson and the state police’s superintendent, Col. Rick Fuentes, were both out touring the roads and that Fuentes even rescued a few stranded motorists himself in West Orange, Jones said.
Many flights scheduled in and out of Newark Liberty International Airport were canceled Sunday and Monday, and the airport remained closed Monday afternoon. Dozens of people lay on the floor of the airport’s concourse, leaning their heads against their luggage as they waited for ticket counters to open.
Meanwhile, tall snowdrifts covered the landing gear of some Continental jets while snowplows moved across the tarmac, digging out another plane as passengers watched from inside the terminal.
In the Terminal C baggage claim area, melting snow was leaking through the roof and pitter-pattering into a trash can that workers had positioned near carousel 6. Two pigeons walked among the sleeping passengers on the floor, looking for crumbs.
While most people didn’t venture outdoors, those who did found the treacherous roads to be slow-going _ or worse.
Raquel and Amir Dayan had to get help digging out after ending up in a median along Interstate 195 as they attempted to travel from their home in Philadelphia to her parents’ place in Oakcrest. The falling snow was so blinding the couple didn’t realize they’d left the road at first.
“You couldn’t see anything. We just kind of stopped moving,” Raquel Dayan said.
New Jersey Transit and PATCO trains were running on modified schedules for the day with trains running less frequency, but ridership was light.
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