NEW YORK - Millions of people along the East Coast were bracing for potentially dicey commutes as they returned to work Monday after a weekend winter storm dropped record snowfall, interrupted holiday shopping and stranded travelers. The storm crept up the coast on Saturday and Sunday, walloping states from the mid-Atlantic to New England, causing hundreds of delayed or canceled flights, widespread power outages and treacherous driving conditions. The weather was blamed for several deaths in North Carolina and Virginia.
But despite its powerful punch, many took solace in the timing of the storm and the knowledge that it could have been worse had it come during the work week. The weekend arrival helped minimize headache-inducing commutes and reduced frenzied efforts to dig out the car before heading for work.
The New York City Transit agency said it anticipated a normal rush hour Monday morning as hundreds of subway employees worked overnight to finish cleaning platforms.
Even as workers returned to the job Monday, their children in some cases were being given the day off.
The School District of Philadelphia and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia canceled classes for 195,000 public school and Roman Catholic school students to give the city another day to clear roads and sidewalks. Public schools in Baltimore and Roanoke, Va., among other cities, also were closed Monday.
Meanwhile, airports in the Northeast that were jammed up this weekend were working their way back to normal operations. Two of the four runways at Dulles International Airport in Washington reopened Sunday. Reagan National reopened its main runway, which handles all commercial traffic.
By early Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration was reporting that all major airports on the East Coast had average flight delays of less than 15 minutes.
Still, three major airports in the New York City area were expecting an unusually busy holiday travel season as many who were stranded by the cancellation of 1,200 flights over the weekend try to make it to their destinations.
The backup wasn't limited to the air. Amtrak reported that some trains in the East would be canceled Monday because of the storm and that long-distance trains to the South and West faced substantial delays.
Power outages remained an issue. Nearly 200,000 people were without power in North Carolina, West Virginia and Virginia, and more than 500 people were in shelters.
The storm came on the last weekend before Christmas, and merchants feared they'd take a hit as the storm blew through, shutting people indoors. Crowds were unusually light Sunday morning at the Providence Place mall in downtown Providence, where Reuben Tillman III, a salesman at Champs Sports, said he had made only one sale in his first couple of hours at work.
"But I do have a theory: Everybody who's here has a SUV," he said. "This is happy truck day."
Tillman predicted that business would be booming closer to Christmas, with people who opted to stay home on Sunday doing last-minute shopping on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Shoppers who did venture out made the most of it.
James Phyfe, of Cranston, R.I., took advantage of the meager crowds at the Providence Place mall to buy gifts, including a toy soccer ball, for his toddler son.
"I came out because I knew there'd be no crowds around," he said.
The storm yielded record snowfall totals at several locations. The 16 inches recorded Saturday at Reagan National Airport outside Washington was the most ever for a December day. Philadelphia, which recorded 23.2 inches, had its second-largest snowfall since it began keeping records in 1884.
The storm began wreaking misery Friday in South Florida, where it caused flooding and knocked out electricity in the Carolinas before turning to snow as it moved north.
One person in Virginia was killed in a traffic accident, and authorities said the weather may have contributed to another traffic death there. A third death in Virginia is believed to have been caused by exposure. In Ohio, two people were killed in accidents on snow-covered roads. And in western North Carolina, a man was killed when his car slid down an embankment.
A plow truck driver was found dead in his truck with the motor running Sunday on New York's Long Island, but it was unclear whether his death was related to the storm, police said.
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