Snowstorm Snarls Commutes in Northeast; NJ Digs Outs as Tri-State Power Outages Persist

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Drivers are facing a tough commute across parts of the Northeast that were smacked by a surprisingly strong October snowstorm and plunged millions into darkness over the weekend.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said the damage from this storm in the state — which remains under a state of emergency — was worse than the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Irene in late August. More than 300,00 remain without power.

"The grid of our electrical system is like a jigsaw puzzle, and when so many of the parts are taking out, it takes a while to put them back together," Christie told WNYC Monday morning.

The governor said he's meeting with utility companies to get an update and a time frame for when power will be restored.

New Jersey Transit was letting passengers transfer freely among train and bus lines because several miles of track were still disrupted. Hundreds of schools closed throughout the region, and Halloween trick-or-treating was to be curtailed in many communities because of downed power lines.

The storm dropped anywhere from a trace to 30 inches of wet, heavy snow from Maryland to Maine. More than 3 million people lacked electricity at one point as trees toppled under the weight and brought down power lines.

That number was down to about 2.1 million by early Monday. Service isn't expected to be restored in many spots until Wednesday.

Across New Jersey, thousands of volunteer first responders were working with groups like Meals on Wheels on Sunday to identify the home-bound elderly and special need households who may need assistance.

Hospitals and senior living facilities have resorted to generators. Phone service is also problematic and downed wires have made local travel perilous.

Even though Public Service Electric and Gas, Jersey Central Power and Light and Orange and Rockland have hundreds of crews working around the clock, power restoration will likely take days. 

The weekend's heavy, wet snow came even as tree foliage was still full, creating unbearble weight loads for branches and tree trunks. Downed branches and fallen trees knocked out all train service on the Morris and Essex lines.

In Morristown, the Red Cross set up a shelter on the third floor of the municipal building and expects to house at least a dozen women and children from a nearby shelter that's without power.

Long time Morristown resident Anne Rubino, who is 83, lives alone and has trouble walking. She currently has no phone service or power. She said she struggled down a flight of stairs and out on to the street in front of her home looking for help from passers by.

Rubino, still visibly shaken by the ordeal, said some of the passers by ignored her even as she stood out in the cold and snow. "They thought I was drunk but I don't drink," said Rubino. Rubino said finally a woman walking her dog came to her rescue, notified police and saw to it Rubino got to the shelter.

Rubino was most concerned about the well being of her calico cat, Calley. A pair of Red Cross volunteers went back to Rubino's home to see to it Calley was fed. "Everyone has been wonderful," said Rubino. "You just never anticipate something like this."

Also seeking shelter, or to be more precise, juice for all their "I gizmos" were retirees Rosary and Bill Lescohier. "We have no power but we do have gas and a gas fireplace," said Rosary Lescohier. The Lescohiers said they found out about the shelter on Facebook.

Several hospitals remained on generator power Sunday, including St. Barnabas, Livingston Mountainside Hospital in Monclair, and Bergen Regional Medical Center in Paramus. 

Meanwhile, in New York, nearly 300,000 are in the dark, including nearly 58,000 in the city and in Westchester. More than 200,000 customers are out in New Jersey. 

With the Associated Press