New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, center, speaks during a news conference addressing a snowstorm that hit the northern New Jersey region a day earlier, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, in Woodbridge, N.J. Murphy is under fire because many commuters were stranded on highways during the snowstorm that hit during the rush hour traffic. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Officials on hot seat as season's 1st storm cripples region

November 16, 2018 - 1:56 pm

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Public officials were on the defensive Friday after the season's first, surprisingly strong snowstorm stranded thousands of motorists for hours and forced some students to stay overnight in their schools.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said "lousy" forecasts were partly to blame. He took a pounding on social media from people complaining about his handling of Thursday's storm, including one of his highest-profile constituents. Former Republican Gov. Chris Christie tweeted at Murphy that it took him nearly six hours to travel roughly 30 miles (48 kilometers). Murphy didn't respond directly to his predecessor.

"Clearly we could have done better and we will do better," Murphy said.

Snowplows and salt trucks were unable to make a dent throughout the New York metro area due to crushing gridlock on highways and local roads.

In West Orange, New Jersey, more than a hundred students stayed late into the night — and some until morning — at a middle school after buses became stranded for hours and turned back. Staffers stayed overnight and made dinner for students who couldn't get home.

Student Breanna Dannestoy told NBC New York she and other West Orange students were taken to a diner before heading back to school.

"It was so long, I'm just excited to go home and go to sleep," she said.

Among the odd sights in the storm, which dumped as much as 17 inches (43 centimeters) in some areas of upstate New York, was a camel named Einstein. The animal was en route to an event put on by the organization Jewish Philly when the vehicle he was traveling in became stuck, the group said. Einstein was not able to make it to his destination, as his handlers turned back to Peaceable Kingdom Petting Zoo where they started.

Some drivers woke up in their cars Friday morning after being stuck overnight on the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx. Accidents on the George Washington Bridge halted traffic on the crossing and led to backups in New York and New Jersey.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he understands why people are frustrated that city officials were caught off guard by a snowstorm that stranded some New Yorkers in their cars for hours.

De Blasio said on New York 1 Friday that the city "will do a full review of what happened here."

A mayoral spokesman said the early storm meant that Metropolitan Transportation Authority didn't have snow chains on its buses. He said many of them had to pull over, "further clogging streets."

Bus delays caused a logjam of commuters Thursday, forcing officials to close the doors at New York's Port Authority Bus Terminal.

The wintry weather also caused a traffic nightmare in Pennsylvania, with numerous vehicles stuck for several hours from the Lehigh Valley to the New Jersey state line. Police sometimes drove on the opposite side of the highway, honking their horns to wake up drivers who had fallen asleep while sitting in traffic.

About 105,000 homes and businesses were without power as of Friday morning in Pennsylvania, mostly in the western part of the state.

In Vermont, aside from the region's traffic nightmare, the storm was a boon for Vermont's ski resorts. Okemo Mountain and Stowe Mountain Resort opened Friday as the snow continued to fall. Sugarbush is opening Saturday. Killington Resort is already open and other ski areas plan to open later this month.

Some areas of Massachusetts received more than 9 inches (23 centimeters) of snow in the storm, which turned to rain overnight to complicate the morning commute. State police said a stretch of the Massachusetts Turnpike east was closed Friday morning after several tractor-trailer crashes.

Many schools in northern New England and upstate New York were delayed or closed.


Associated Press writers Lisa Rathke in Montpelier, Vt., Karen Matthews in New York, David Porter in Newark, N.J., Bob Salsberg in Boston, Kathy McCormack in Concord, N.H., and Mike Catalini and Bruce Shipkowski in Trenton, N.J., contributed to this story.

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