South Carolina’s busiest airport remained at a standstill days after a snowstorm blew into the state, vexing passengers trying to leave a coastal area unaccustomed to snow.
The U.S. Air Force announced that it cleared a single runway around noon Saturday at Charleston International Airport. But it was too late to save the day’s slate of flights. The airport website showed cancellations for all departures and arrivals.
The storm blew in Wednesday, dumping 5.3 inches (13.5 centimeters) of snow on the airport, its third-highest snow total since 1938. The airport boards more passengers than any other in South Carolina.
Large airports serving Greenville, Myrtle Beach and Columbia are open. But Charleston airport CEO Paul Campbell has said his airport doesn’t have much equipment for removing snow and ice because the coastal area normally sees so little frozen precipitation.
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The airport shares its runways with the adjacent Joint Base Charleston, where the Air Force said it hired three plows to clear the runway. Base leaders issued a statement late Friday saying they expected the sun to help get rid of residual ice and moisture. Temperatures were hovering around freezing Saturday.
The Air Force said flights could resume after clearing the runway, but civilian airport officials later issued a statement that they expected commercial flights to resume Sunday morning. An airport spokeswoman referred questions about arrivals and departures to the airlines.
Passengers expressed frustration about being kept in limbo all morning, days after the sun re-emerged.
A couple who runs a British restaurant was stuck in Charleston for two extra nights on a trip to sample Southern fare, missing out on plans to try restaurants in Savannah, Georgia.
Gareth Rees manages the Fat Bear in London, where his American wife is the head chef. After waiting all morning to hear their Saturday afternoon flight was canceled, they were being bussed to another airport in hopes of flying out later in the day.
“It’s absolutely baffling when you have the major international airport for a state of millions of people,” said Rees, a native of Britain. “To be so woefully unprepared — it’s shambolic. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Charleston resident Allie Watters, 24, had planned a weekend getaway in New York, where flights were landing Saturday despite much more snow up north from the storm. Her 8 a.m. flight was pushed back by six hours, then she received conflicting information about whether it would depart at all. Just before she planned to leave for the airport, she got final word that the flight was canceled.
“It’s really odd because the interstate and the highways are completely fine, so I don’t understand why the runways are still not opened,” she said, adding: “I know Columbia and Myrtle Beach have equipment for snow, so it seems unreasonable for Charleston not to have it.”
Drew reported from Durham, N.C.
Follow Drew at www.twitter.com/JonathanLDrew