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Patience of stranded travelers at Kennedy runs low

Pat Thomas, left, and her daughter Rhiannon Thomas,

Pat Thomas, left, and her daughter Rhiannon Thomas, second from left lying under a blue blanket, both from Birmingham, England, chat as they wait in Terminal 4 at JFK International Airport in the Queens borough of New York for their flight to Dublin, Ireland Saturday April 17, 2010. Many European flight destinations were canceled due to the volcano eruption in Iceland. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg) Credit: AP Photo/TINA FINEBERG

Kennedy Airport's terminals have begun to resemble sprawling refugee camps, with hundreds of stranded travelers turning the busy airport into makeshift shantytowns.

Certainly, the world has seen refugees in far more dire conditions. But frustration is palpable in the tight rows of cots that dot the terminals. Running low on money, food, clean clothes and patience, the strandees are at the mercy of Mother Nature, the dwindling number of the city's available hotel rooms, and volcano ash over Iceland.

"We want food and blankets," read one sign in Terminal 8, written in crayon and taped to the floor.

"Hunger strike until departure," said a sign Sophie Serra, 44, of Marseille, France, taped to her chest.

With about 1,000 stranded, some terminals were "maxed out" of cot sleepers, said John P. Kelly, a spokesman for the Port Authority, which operates Kennedy.

"It's a tough spot," Kelly said.

Unable to afford a hotel, Milhau Aurelien and his girlfriend Virginie Monard, from Toulouse, France, shared a cot and shivered all night with no blanket.

"We are broke here," he said.

His cot had crumbs from their half-eaten package of Oreo cookies - among the little food they can find.

"No one comes to help us," he said. "We are invisible."

Across Terminal 8, four members of the King family, from the United Kingdom, spent all night taking turns on their single cot.

"We were doing half-an-hour relays in it," said Hannah King, 21, of southeast Wales, as another person took his turn at a snooze. They don't expect to be able to fly to London until Thursday night. No showers until then. "I'm going to have to stick my head in one of the bowls in the restrooms," she said. "It's gross."

Ashley O'Keeffe, 19, was supposed to be graduating from a trade school on Tuesday, but she won't be back for the ceremony in Waterford, Ireland. Out of money, she and her boyfriend were camped out in Terminal 4. "Fourteen crosswords and counting," she sighed.

The authority asked some food vendors to remain open 24 hours, helped make cots, diapers and baby formula available, and tried filling prescriptions, Kelly said.

Sitting under an escalator, Phuong Truong of Paris learned from a reporter of the offer. It wasn't clear to her who in the huge terminal would be able to help. She fed fast food to her 2-year-old twins, Leonie and Quentin.

Nearby on a cot under the escalator was Marie-Helene Nouvion, 50, who was due to fly Friday to Frankfurt and back to France.

Earlier, she took an $80 taxi to one of the few available hotels, in Uniondale, only to get to the Island and learn her reservation had been lost. She paid another $80 to return to Kennedy. Now she and her family are stuck here.

Traveler frustration seemed to vary in proportion to how much longer they'd have to stay at the airport.

Gil Troitsa, an Israeli illustrator, was supposed to return to the Mideast via London on an early-morning flight last week. He rebooked himself on a flight due to depart shortly. Troitsa, 30, spent late Friday evening bending elbows and ears at the Sam Adams Brewhouse in Terminal 4. And Saturday, he stopped at a Tanqueray tasting booth and flirted with the women manning it.

"I'm not complaining," he said, sipping a gin and tonic sample. "I'm a lucky one."

With Keith Herbert

and Nomaan Merchant

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