Snowstorm brings chaos to US

Freezing nightmare: Over 400 spend frigid night on train in NYC

Travellers carry their luggage through a snow bank on 7th Avenue in front of Penn Station after a  snowstorm in New York on Monday. Reuters

His feet soaked to the bone, with no food, water and hardly any heat, Mullen and 400 others lived through a New York nightmare on an elevated subway track, one of hundreds of stories of hardship caused by the crushing snowstorm that dropped more than 2 feet of snow on the Northeast.

By the time they got on the subway shortly before 1 am on Monday near Kennedy Airport, Mullen and his girlfriend were well into their ordeal battling the blizzard of December 2010.

Their flight landed two hours late. Mullen stood in the snow and attempted to dig his car out from long-term parking. The only result: feet and legs that were soaking wet.

When the couple — their diving gear and luggage in tow — boarded the A train more than six hours after clearing Customs, it seemed that they were finally on their way. But the subway got only one stop before it was forced to a halt at an open-air station platform in a forlorn corner of Queens near the airport and Jamaica Bay. Later, NYC Transit spokesman Charles Seaton said the cause was snow drifts piled on the outside tracks and thick layers of ice on the electrified third rail.

At first, it seemed the delay might be brief. A loudspeaker announcement said that a train up ahead was stuck on the track due to the weather and they were being held back, Mullen said. But the minutes stretched into hours.

The train was in the station, but in the dark of night with bus service down and car services shuttered. Train operators kept the doors closed to keep out the cold, but the gusting winds rattled the windows and the chill of the storm seeped into the car, overpowering the faint stream of warm air coming from the subway car’s heaters.

The 400 on Mullen’s train were unlucky, but they were not alone. The blizzard left thousands of travellers stranded, closing all three of the metropolitan area’s airports and blocking most other means of transportation. Buses sputtered to a halt in snowdrifts. Taxi drivers abandoned their cabs in the middle of New York’s snow-clogged streets. At least one other subway train was stranded on the tracks.

“I just huddled with my girlfriend. We just tried to stay close. I was not dressed appropriately for the weather at all,” Mullen said after the ordeal.

Tensions in the car began to rise. No one was aggressive, but people were speaking forcefully to the conductor. Some demanded that city transit authorities bus them out. A mother with four children worried loudly that they had no water. Some worried about getting sick.

Men would walk onto the platforms connecting subway cars and urinate onto the tracks. Eventually, the train workers allowed passengers into the bathroom inside the train station. When it turned out that bathroom was heated, it caused a commotion. Twice, passengers called 911 and the Fire Department of New York responded. Passengers begged the emergency responders to take them away, but they were told they had to stay put, Mullen said.

At some point, it became morning. But the windows were too iced over to see the sun rise.

Finally, at around 9 am, the train began to move again.
Asked about the stranded passengers, Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Jay Walder said: “We will of course take a look at that situation after the storm. I know it wasn’t comfortable.”

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