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News Wrap: East Coast Digs Out From Wintry Deluge

December 21, 2009 at 12:00 AM EST
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In other news, states in the Mid-Atlantic spend the first official day of winter digging out from a record weekend blizzard, and the Obama administration announced new rules for tarmac delays.
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TRANSCRIPT

JEFFREY BROWN: And still to come on the “NewsHour”: anti-government protests back on the streets of Iran; after Copenhagen, what happened and what’s next; and the start of a week long series recounting the challenges facing the Washington, D.C., schools.

That follows the other news of the day from Hari Sreenivasan in our newsroom — Hari.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Good evening.

Much of the East Coast struggled back to life today after a weekend blizzard paralyzed state after state with record snow. Thousands of students and teachers stayed home from school, and the storm was blamed for seven deaths.

“NewsHour” correspondent Kwame Holman has our report.

KWAME HOLMAN: Millions of people from the Mid-Atlantic to New England spent this first official day of winter struggling to dig out. The onslaught began Friday night and continued in some places for 24 hours nonstop.

The Washington, D.C., region was buried under nearly two feet of snow, forcing federal agencies to close today. And everywhere commuters had to brave icy roads and slick sidewalks this morning. Those who opted for public transportation ran into delays in bus, commuter rail and subway service in several major cities.

Early holiday travelers were left struggling to salvage flight plans after thousands of flights were delayed or canceled.

BILLY PLYER, stranded air traveler: Got on a flight from Boston yesterday at 3:00 and got here at 5:30 something p.m., and have been there — been here since trying to get a flight to Pittsburgh. Slept right over there behind the Christmas tree.

MONICA YEOMAN, stranded air traveler: We called up the airline last night, and everything was totally fine, and then arrived this morning, and just went to check in, and it just said, your flight has been canceled. Sorry for the inconvenience. So, we’re totally confused. And there’s heaps of people here who are in the same boat, like, lots of people confused, not knowing what’s going on.

KWAME HOLMAN: As the day went on, runways began to reopen and flight schedules slowly began returning to normal.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The blizzard also left shopping malls snowbound, with merchants scrambling to recoup a critical weekend of lost business.

Starting next spring, airline passengers in the U.S. will not have to sit on the tarmac for more than three hours. The Transportation Department ordered today that passengers be allowed to deplane if a delay lasts that long. Otherwise, airlines could risk fines of $27,000 per passenger. Transportation officials say an average of 1,500 flights a year are delayed more than three hours.

Thousands of rail travelers in Britain, France, and Belgium were stranded for a third day after snow halted high-speed rail service. In London and Paris, would-be passengers waited in long lines for information on how they will get home for the Christmas holiday. Operators of the Eurostar train said limited service would resume tomorrow.

Ford Motors will offer buyouts and early retirement to 41,000 factory workers. It is an attempt to reduce costs and reach profitability by 2011. The company announcement today said union workers have until late January to accept the offers with payments of up to $70,000. Ford offered buyouts earlier this year, but only 1,000 employees accepted the offer.

On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 85 points, to close at 10414. The Nasdaq rose nearly 26 points, to close at 2237.

Mexico City legalized gay marriage today, the first place in Latin America to do so. The Mexican capital’s legislature voted to redefine marriage as — quote — “the free uniting of two people.” The city’s mayor is expected to sign it into law.

Polish police have recovered the sign stolen from the main gate of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Officials said today they arrested five men described as common criminals looking to make a profit. The thieves allegedly cut the sign into three pieces to make it easier to transport.

The men could face up to 10 years in prison for theft of an object of special cultural value. The Auschwitz sign has become one of the defining symbols of the Holocaust.

Those are some of the day’s main stories. I will be back at the end of the program with a preview of what you will find tonight on the “NewsHour”‘s Web site — but, for now, back to Gwen.