HAMBURG, Pa. - A thick layer of ice kept major highways closed Friday morning, a day after hundreds of drivers became stranded on a hilly stretch of eastern Pennsylvania that had been hit by a monster storm.
National Guard troops used Humvees to ferry in food, fuel and baby supplies on Thursday to the lines of motorists caught in a 50-mile traffic jam on Interstate 78. Friday morning, the troops were busy towing away the remaining vehicles while road crews struggled to melt ice that had built up four to six inches in places.
Some drivers were angry that they had been let on the road at all. State police didn't close all the entrance ramps to I-78 until around 5 p.m. Thursday, more than 24 hours after cars and trucks started getting caught. They also closed sections of I-81 and I-80, to help keep the area clear.
"Why would they have that exit open if they were just going to let us sit there?" said a crying Deborah Miller. Her 5-year-old son was trapped in the car with her, running a 103-degree fever from strep throat.
Eugene Coleman of Hartford, Conn., who is hyperglycemic, said he was trapped for 20 hours along with his girlfriend and pregnant daughter. They had no food or water for about 18 hours and Coleman said his legs were swollen.
"God forbid somebody gets really stuck on the highway and has a life-threatening emergency. That person would have died," Coleman said.
State Transportation Secretary Allen D. Biehler said Friday morning that the highways would stay closed indefinitely so crews and chemicals could do their work.
"In many areas, we're finding sections of ice covering the highway that measure four to six inches. This simply poses too great a risk to motorists," Biehler said in a news release. "Additionally, this extra time allows the chemicals we applied overnight to work, as they heat with the rising daytime temperatures."
The sprawling storm system hit Wednesday and blew out to sea Thursday, leaving huge snow piles, frigid temperatures and tens of thousands without power across the Midwest and Northeast. It was blamed for at least 15 deaths.
In Maryland, BGE utility officials said it could be late Friday before power is restored to everyone. The worst outages were in Anne Arundel County, with 22,000 without power, and in Prince George County, where 7,700 were without power.
More than 137,000 customers had lost power at the height of the storm.
Numerous areas saw more than a foot of snow, with 42 inches falling in the southern Adirondacks in New York. Gusty wind had morning wind chills below zero, and in some areas, the snow was followed by several inches of ice.
A few flights were canceled Thursday after numerous cancellations Wednesday that had stranded some passengers for hours on runways. Many school districts that had canceled classes Wednesday extended the unplanned vacation by an extra day.
"This storm was rare because of the unusual amount of snow and ice," Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Allen D. Biehler said. "This series of accidents that blocked our way made it really, really difficult."
Eugene Coleman, who is hyperglycemic, was trapped for 20 hours while on his way home to Hartford, Conn., from visiting his terminally ill mother in Georgia, along with his girlfriend and pregnant daughter.
"How could you operate a state like this? It's totally disgusting," Coleman said.