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Digging out taking time in New Jersey

A pedestrian is seen on Ridge Road in Kearny, N.J. as gusty winds blow snow as North New Jersey continued to feel the effects of a blizzard, Monday, Dec. 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
December 30, 2010 11:46:52 AM PST
Recovering from the post-Christmas storm that dumped more than 2 feet of snow on parts of New Jersey is shaping up to be no easy task.

On Tuesday, a full day after the snow stopped falling, conditions were still so bad - especially near the shore - that some post offices weren't delivering mail, one major road was closed, and snow was so deep in spots that front-end loaders had to clear the way for plow trucks.

Acting Gov. Steve Sweeney, who's in charge while Gov. Chris Christie and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno are out of town, asked the Christie administration to apply for federal aid to help with cleanup costs.

State Police spokesman Sgt. Stephen Jones said at least 60 vehicles were stranded along State Route 18 in Monmouth County. Officials were still rescuing trapped motorists at about 2 a.m. Tuesday, he said.

The stranded motorists and their passengers were taken in National Guard Humvees and other vehicles to shelters set up at the Tinton Falls Police Department, the South Wall Township Fire Department, the Monmouth Mall and the Ocean Township Community Center.

On Tuesday morning, State Police helicopters flew over the road to see if there were people trapped in vehicles. State Transportation Commissioner James Simpson said Tuesday afternoon that police had not found anyone else still in their cars.

Simpson told WCBS Radio that crews hoped to have the road reopened by late Tuesday night. But he called the Route 18 cleanup "a monumental task."

"The snow was so deep that plows could not plow," he said. "We're waiting to get front-end loaders to clear the way for the plows."

Simpson said abandoned vehicles were making the job difficult. "We have tractor-trailers and cars wiped out on nearly every access ramp," he said.

He said additional trouble spots included the I-195 corridor and the Garden State Parkway in the Wall area.

"Ground Zero is Monmouth County," he said, "but 99 percent of the state is in good shape."

Near the Monmouth County shore, the piled-up snow even kept the U.S. Post Office from delivering in some areas.

"We're just shoveling out trucks," said Buddy Sponenberg, a postal worker in Asbury Park. "And we'll see what happens tomorrow," he said.

Asbury Park got so much snow, followed by winds, that an 8-foot drift buried Dave Duncan's Ford Focus.

"This was an act of God. I can't even blame the snow plows," said Duncan, who watched Sunday from his apartment above as his car disappeared into the white.

In Newark, Mayor Cory Booker personally helped some residents dig out their cars and was using Twitter to respond to others seeking help. Booker cut short a phone call with a reporter Tuesday afternoon as he assisted in helping free a trapped car on one of the city's side streets.

Booker said he's "set a record for Diet Coke consumption" since Sunday night and said he expected to be out with emergency crews through Tuesday night.

"I'm still getting a lot of tweets for help, so I'm going to stay with this for a while longer," he said.

Mass transit was slowly getting back to normal. New Jersey Transit resumed bus service early Tuesday, and said it planned to resume a regular weekday rail schedule Wednesday after two days of reduced service.

At Newark Liberty International Airport, flights weren't taking off fast enough for thousands of travelers who stood or sat in long lines that snaked through the airport.

Geri Smith's experience was echoed by several travelers who said once flights were canceled, they were unable to change reservations online or via phone, forcing them to try their luck at the airport.

Once there, it was a challenge to determine which line originated at which counter, so tangled was the mass of humanity.

"You figure if you slide into a line and nobody yells at you, you're probably at the end," said Smith, who found out late Monday night that her Tuesday morning flight to California had been canceled.

People improvised to create sleeping spaces, with large plastic luggage tubs doing multiple duty. Small children curled up in them with blankets and pillows, and one man took several and turned them over to form a makeshift box spring.

"I slept about four or five hours," said Ganesh Thapa, a Ph.D. student at the University of Rhode Island on his way to visit family in India. "It was better than the floor."

New Jersey's other commercial passenger airport, Atlantic City International, reopened Monday evening.

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