Massive winter storm strands travelers - East Valley Tribune: News

Massive winter storm strands travelers

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Posted: Thursday, December 23, 2004 9:32 am | Updated: 4:28 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

EVANSVILLE, Ind. - Frigid temperatures, blasting wind and more snow than some places normally see in a year left parts of the Midwest and South paralyzed Thursday, and transformed a section of highway in southern Indiana into a parking lot.

The winter storm dumped double-digits of snow from Ohio to Wyoming, the Texas Panhandle to the Great Lakes, disrupting pre-Christmas travel. Motorists in parts of Mississippi and Tennessee were warned Thursday to stay off highways iced up from freezing rain. Hundreds of thousands lost power in Ohio.

Southern Indiana barely had time to catch its frosty breath after a snowstorm Wednesday morning when a second, heavier gust pummeled the region, shutting down Interstate 64 eastbound from Evansville to the Illinois State line.

"We're still stuck here. It's been about 13 hours," Ken Sabatini, 52, of Leawood, Kan., said Thursday morning. He, his wife and two children were traveling to Cincinnati for Christmas. "It's cold outside and we're doing our best to stay inside the car."

Temperatures fell to 12 degrees overnight, and Sabatini said some motorists had run out of gas and were sleeping in a stranded Greyhound Bus to stay warm.

"We've got some gas left, so every hour we run it for five minutes to get some warmth in the car," Sabatini said.

The Indiana National Guard was bringing stranded motorists from I-64 to hotels in Evansville or the Red Cross offices.

Gov. Joe Kernan declared a disaster emergency for portions of the state and urged a delay in Christmas travel to allow time for roads to be cleared.

The traffic snarl began when semis had trouble getting up hills and rolled back, blocking traffic, police said. A similar problem tied up traffic on a stretch of Interstate 71 in Kentucky.

The Wednesday snowfall at Evansville of 19.3 inches shattered the record for any single day, set Feb. 25, 1993, when 10.9 inches fell. It was also well over the normal yearly total of 14.2 inches.

Paducah, Ky., got 14 inches, more than the yearly norm of 10, and state police closed down a 13-mile stretch of the I-64 in both directions west of Louisville.

Ohio was a patchwork: up to 16 inches of snow in some places, but a combination of snow, sleet and rain in the northeastern part of the state. Electric companies serving most of the state said 310,000 homes and business were without power.

"It's very, very difficult to get crews to where the damage is. It's very treacherous," said Bryce Nickel, spokesman for Dayton Power & Light, which had 20,000 customers without power.

Heavy and snow and ice caused the roof on two sections of a warehouse in suburban Cincinnati to collapse overnight. No injuries were reported.

In Illinois, where up to 20 inches of snow fell, forecasters warned that wind chills would reach as low as 25 below zero, and high snowdrifts created a hazardous morning commute, officials said.

Cincinnati was looking at about 20 inches before the system, with its high winds and freezing temperatures, moved on later Thursday.

Parts of Arkansas looked forward to only the ninth white Christmas in 120 years as the storm barreled across the state, closing businesses, shuttering restaurants and snarling traffic.

As arctic air surged southward into the lower Mississippi Valley, a combination of freezing rain and sleet made driving treacherous across northern Mississippi. The Highway Patrol urged motorists to suspend their travel "at least until midmorning," said agency spokesman Warren Strain. "We've had some eight hours of freezing rain," he said.

At least seven weather-related traffic deaths were reported - three in Ohio and one each in New Mexico, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma. A 76-year-old woman in Ohio died of an apparent heart attack while shoveling snow.

Nine people received minor injuries in a series of accidents on a snowy interstate in Wyoming just north of the Colorado state line.

In Amarillo, Texas, 3.7 inches of snow fell Wednesday, more than triple the previous record for the date. Hundreds of flights were grounded and others delayed Wednesday at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Workers deiced about 200 planes an hour, airport spokesman Ken Capps said.

In Cincinnati, cancellations and delays were blamed mostly on planes arriving from other storm-battered locations.

Back on the ground, those leaving the driving to others couldn't do much but take it all in stride.

Susie Brown, 32, was stuck in the Cincinnati bus terminal, waiting for a Greyhound to take her north through western Ohio, where 10 to 16 inches of snow could blanket areas west of I-71 by Thursday afternoon.

"My brother always told me that I would grow up someday to regret wanting a white Christmas," said Brown, who lives in Cincinnati, "and this year he may be right."

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