NEW YORK — Much of the East Coast struggled to dig out Monday from a ferocious two-day blizzard that buried airports, froze trains and subways, downed power lines and stranded hundreds of thousands of travelers and commuters during one of the year's busiest travel periods.
Howling winds and driving snow in areas from North Carolina to Maine forced the cancellation of more than 5,000 flights, crippling air travel across the nation. Officials said they may not unravel the colossal mess until Friday, the start of another holiday weekend.
The fierce storm left hundreds of cities and towns, highways and bridges, all but paralyzed under a shroud of icy white. Emergency crews rescued hundreds of motorists from snow-draped roads, and hundreds of passengers on one of New York City's seemingly-invincible subways endured a long cold night on a snow-stuck train.
Six states — Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina and Virginia — declared states of emergency to clear snow-clogged roads, restore electric power and regain some sense of normalcy as the nor'easter roared out to sea and into the record books. Clear skies and warmer weather is predicted for the next few days.
With heavy drifts blocking the tracks, Amtrak suspended rail services from New York to Maine, although limited service was restored Monday afternoon. Service also was canceled on New York's Long Island Rail Road and on other regional commuter lines. Greyhound and other bus companies canceled many routes.
The blizzard blanketed New York City beneath nearly 2 feet of snow, and gusting winds clocked at nearly 60 mph brought much of the city that never sleeps to a shuddering halt.
Side streets and some major avenues in Manhattan and outer boroughs were still impassable at midday Monday, stunning New Yorkers long used to a fast-moving army of snow plows.
Abandoned cars, taxis and even a few police cars blocked parts of the upper-crust Upper West Side. In Brooklyn, cross-country skiers happily glided down the middle of a major thoroughfare as children played in the deep snow.
The region's three major airports — John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International — were closed all day though limited service resumed by nightfall. Thousands of tired, hungry and frustrated passengers camped out on benches and floors, crowding overused restrooms and lining up at snack shops.
Ambulances, fire trucks and other emergency services struggled to keep going as the storm raged. At one point, officials said, New York's five boroughs struggled to meet a backlog of 1,300 pleas for help.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the city's cleanup effort, saying the furious pace of the snowfall — 2 to 3 inches per hour — required crews to plow streets repeatedly to keep them open. And abandoned cars slowed the process further because plows could not get through, he said.
In Boston, Gov. Deval Patrick warned that the storm was expected "to produce widespread heavy snowfall, periods of zero visibility, high winds, power outages, coastal flooding and beach erosion."
Gale force winds downed trees or power lines in many areas. Utilities reported about 30,000 homes and businesses lost power in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
The storm dumped 2 feet of snow in Newark, and a foot of snow at Philadelphia International Airport. About 1,200 passengers were stranded overnight, Victoria Lupica, the airport spokeswoman, said.
The National Weather Service said a "full-blown blizzard" hit the New York City area and southern New England. Parts of New Jersey disappeared under 29 inches of snow, and wind gusts up to 80 mph ripped coastal Massachusetts.
Heavy snow fell on several Southern states, with more than 13 inches falling on Norfolk, Va. Some areas in Georgia and South Carolina also received record snowfalls.
In Chicago, more than 200 flights were canceled at O'Hare International airport, and another 25 were scrubbed at Midway International airport, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation.
Information from the Los Angeles Times and Associated Press was used in this report.