Digging out

The state hummed back into action Sunday as Marylanders dug out from the record-breaking snowstorm that dumped more than 21 inches on Baltimore in less than 36 hours.

Work crews cleared the roads, and malls that were shut down on Saturday filled up on the last weekend shopping day before Christmas. Still, air and rail passengers faced continuing delays after the biggest December snowstorm to hit Baltimore since recordkeeping began in 1883.

Most area school districts, including those in Baltimore City and in Baltimore, Harford, Carroll, Howard and Anne Arundel counties, canceled classes for today.

The storm passed without major accidents, but officials said it had contributed to at least one death - a 58-year-old Baltimore man felled by a heart attack while shoveling snow.

While state workers cleared highways to the blacktop, Gov. Martin O'Malley urged motorists to continue to exercise caution into the evening as temperatures dropped and water turned to ice.

Emergency management officials in Baltimore reported a 20 percent increase in patients transported for treatment in the storm's aftermath. Complaints included falls, chest pains and at least two heart attacks. They added a third person to the standard two-member ambulance crew and increased the number of crews to 33 from the typical 24.

Meanwhile, the city programmed robocalls to remind homeowners in neighborhoods where snow appeared to be piling up to clear their sidewalks.

Many appeared to be taking the seventh-biggest snowstorm on record in stride. In Federal Hill, neighbors Helen Holden and Michael Thomas said shoveling out their cars would help them build an appetite for the brunch they planned to share.

"It's kind of fun - like social hour," said Holden, 48. "We love it. We look forward to it."

At Arundel Mills Mall, shoppers who had been snowbound on Saturday emerged for a final weekend opportunity to get gifts before Christmas. Store managers, who had hoped that strong last-minute sales would help improve a difficult retail season, described the storm as unhelpful.

As if shoppers hadn't seen enough real flakes in the past day, two snow machines mounted on a wall outside Fashion Time and Zumiez blasted a fake holiday shower every hour on the hour.

Gary Heckler, an assistant manager at Modell's Sporting Goods, said business was picking up as the afternoon went on and it seemed not much different from last Christmas season.

At the Burlington Coat Factory, customer service manager Peggy Watson said it "looks like a makeup day." She was watching the lines building at six register stations at mid-afternoon Sunday and figuring many customers were just getting out.

Indeed, an unscientific sampling found several customers who were trying to catch up after missing the shopping day Saturday.

In fewer than three hours, Ladun Adeleyer, working her way through her printed-out Christmas shopping list of nearly 20 people, filled a cart with about $450 worth of stuff from T.J. Maxx, The Gap, Aeropostale and Charlotte Russe. She said the storm kept her from shopping Saturday and she shoveled snow Saturday night and Sunday morning at her home in Owings Mills to make sure she could get out to the stores.

At BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, flight delays and cancellations created lines of astounding lengths.

Erin Dieterich and her husband, Ehren Reed, heading to Hartford, Conn., for the holiday, had already spent an hour digging their way out of their home in Silver Spring. The highway drive to the airport went well enough, but then came the desperate search for the end of the queue for the Southwest Airlines baggage check-in counter.

The line snaked through four switchbacks in Concourse B, into the corridor, past the rest rooms, lost and found, the landside operations office and still it kept going. A man in line was pointing the way back, back - as if to suggest that all who enter might well abandon hope.

"It's unbelievable," said Reed, who flies regularly for his work as a consultant to nonprofits but had never seen the likes of this - not even on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving or the Sunday after.

The two finally took their place at the end of the line outside a Subway sandwich shop about 12:45 p.m.. And waited - for a 2 p.m. flight that had been delayed to 3:35 p.m. A check with them later by cell phone revealed that they'd spent nearly 90 minutes in line - longer than the flight time to Hartford - before reaching the check-in counter.

BWI was one of many airports to close at the height of the snowstorm on Saturday. It reopened after workers cleared a runway later that day, but transportation officials advised travelers to contact their airlines before heading to the airport.

"They're basically regrouping after a total shutdown" on Saturday, said Paul Wiedefeld, head of the Maryland Aviation Administration. "Roughly about 50 percent of their flights are operational. ... So they will be overbooked, they have to get their crews in from across the country, particularly the Northeast, and with the storm still playing out above us, there are still impacts."

The Bears were able to arrive late Saturday for the Sunday game that was delayed three hours in anticipation of the storm.

"We were not able to force a forfeiture of the game," O'Malley quipped before the kickoff. "We trust they went to an uncomfortable hotel when they got in late last night and conditions on the field for the players will be ideal for the Ravens." Apparently they were. The Ravens won, 31-7.

When Air Tran Flight 8725 from Cancun touched down at BWI Sunday afternoon about 12:30, a spontaneous cheer went up from its more than 100 passengers.

It had been a grueling journey for the group - most of them returning vacationers from Mexican resorts. Most had arrived at Cancun International Airport at about midday Saturday only to finds that AirTran's two direct flights to Baltimore had been canceled because BWI and other East Coast airports were closed.

The cancellation left passengers with an ugly choice - to seek a scarce last-minute hotel room at their own expense during peak season, or to wait it out at the Cancun airport for an expected 5 a.m. flight.

Joseph and Babette Bierman of Cross Keys were among those who stayed - a choice they said was "very hard on the posterior."

Both said they got 15- or 20-minute snippets of sleep on the airport's thinly padded waiting-area seats. Others tried their luck on the cold, hard marble floors.

Tommy and Sarah Fitzpatrick of Buffalo, N.Y., no strangers to snow, were waiting to check in for a flight back home that had been delayed about two hours. They'd come down to Maryland Friday night for a Saturday wedding in Annapolis.

"We thought we'd come for a little warm weather," Sarah said. They were having dinner at McGarvey's Saloon on City Dock when the snows began on Friday night.

"The whole restaurant went into a panic," she said, with just the sort of amused tone people from way up north tend to assume when they talk about Marylanders coping with snow.

"We went out looking for a bar" Saturday in the middle of the storm, Tommy said, and were astonished to find them all closed. In Buffalo, he said, they'd have been packed.

Biggest Baltimore snowstorms:

1. Feb. 15-18, 2003 28.2 inches
2. Jan. 27-29, 1922 26.5 inches
3. Feb. 11, 1983 22.8 inches
4. Jan. 7-8, 1996 22.5 inches
5. March 29-30, 1942 22 inches
6. Feb. 11-14, 1899 21.4 inches
7. Dec. 18-19, 2009 21.1 inches
8. Feb. 18-19, 1979 20 inches
9. March 15-18, 1892 16 inches
10. Feb. 15, 1958 15.5 inches

Baltimore Sun reporters Michael Dresser and

contributed to this article.