PHILADELPHIA public and Archdiocese schools are closed today, two days after the second-biggest snowstorm in recorded city history - and the largest ever in December - dropped 23.2 inches across the city.

The last time Philadelphia experienced a December snowfall close to this weekend's, people couldn't zip up their jackets because zippers hadn't been invented yet. That was 100 years ago, when 21 inches descended on the city on Christmas Day, according to the National Weather Service.

The deepest snowfall since the start of record-keeping in 1884 was in January 1996, when 30.7 inches blanketed the city.

Mayor Nutter declared a state of emergency Saturday, after the city had received in a single day more than its whole winter average of 19.3 inches of snow.

The prodigious precipitation closed operations at Philadelphia International Airport Saturday night, stranding 1,300 people until it reopened yesterday, and the snow slowed public transportation, holiday shopping and automobile travel.

But when people came out of their homes yesterday to dig out, something else came out, too - kindness among strangers. The snow again served as a reminder that sometimes the worst in Mother Nature can bring out the best in humanity.

Ricardo Rvia and John Hartnett, who didn't know each other, came together to push out a young stranger whose car had become stuck on 15th Street near Ranstead yesterday afternoon.

"It's Christmas time," Rvia said. "We're giving away free spirit."

Jamie Fisher, who operates an outdoor stand at the Christmas Village on City Hall plaza, said a fellow merchant helped her shovel out the foot of snow that had piled up in her glass shop overnight.

"That was so nice," she said. "Now we just have to dry out."

People waiting upward of 45 minutes or more for a SEPTA bus, like Mapp Novell, decided instead to share cabs with strangers they'd met at the bus stop.

Riders reported delays on buses and also a major delay on the R6 Regional Rail line while waiting in Manayunk yesterday, one of the areas where bus service was suspended due to what SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch called "geographical hurdles."

Busch said the R6 delay had to do with a technical issue, possibly a disabled car or faulty signal. He said that in general, SEPTA was running half-hour delays on most Regional Rail lines. He said he was aware of bus delays and admitted that "it has been slow-going during some of this."

To keep up-to-date with the latest route closures or delays, Busch urged people to check the SEPTA Web site or SEPTA's Twitter account.

"We're looking forward to being close to normal Monday morning, particularly on the rail," he said. "Still, people should allow some extra time for possible delays. We imagine it will be slow-going in the morning."

While SEPTA reported no accidents as of last night, it was a different story for a New Jersey Transit bus in Pennsauken Saturday.

The bus carrying 26 passengers had stopped on a railroad crossing near the intersection of Park and Cooper avenues and became stuck.

Pennsauken resident John Mazanec said he saw a light along the tracks, cutting through the snow.

"I ran out and jumped on the bus and there was a cop talking to the driver," said Mazanec, who had been shoveling snow all day. "I said, 'You see that light coming? It's time to go.' "

The train, also a New Jersey Transit vehicle, was carrying 38 passengers to Atlantic City and struck the evacuated bus about 9 p.m.

"It cracked the bus right in half," Mazanec said.

The train's engineer and three passengers suffered minor injuries, officials said. The remaining passengers on both vehicles were picked up by NJ Transit.

An investigator from the Philadelphia Police Accident Investigation Division said officials didn't see an uptick in accidents in the city this weekend, but are worried about this morning, when more drivers will be returning to work on what could still be slippery roads.

But yesterday, while the snow was still fresh and the thought of work still hours away, people gathered in Rittenhouse Square to build a garden of snowmen.

Two dozen snowmen had popped up by 3 p.m. - one had chestnut eyes, another had broccoli arms and one wore 3-D glasses. They were as diverse as the people who stopped to marvel at them.

Inspired by the creations, Jayshree Pal and Bipul Kuri decided to make their first snowman together for their 10-month old daughter.

"It's really beautiful, lots of snowmen, big and small, all unique," Pal said. "But making one is really more difficult than we imagined."

Pal, who hails from India, said she felt lucky to watch the storm from inside and could choose to come outside to enjoy it.

She said she couldn't help but think though of the people in the city who don't have that choice.

Oscar, 55, a Vietnam vet with a cardboard sign who stood on 15th Street near Vine for hours yesterday, was one of those men.

But the snow didn't make him bitter, he said.

"The snow doesn't help anything but it sure is pretty," he said. "And by the grace of God and the kindess of strangers, I get by.

Staffer Ed Weiner and the Associated Press contributed to this report.