- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 25, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Mother Nature delivered a bone-chilling Christmas to much of the nation yesterday, and thousands of travelers were stranded after computer problems forced one airline to cancel all its flights.

A problem with Comair’s system that manages flight assignments led to the cancellation of 1,100 flights, affecting 30,000 travelers in 118 cities, a company spokesman said.

“It’s the worst Christmas I’ve ever experienced,” said Guy Lobuono, who with his wife had been trying since Thursday to get from the Cincinnati airport to Wisconsin to visit their daughter’s family. “We’ve missed Christmas Eve. We’ve missed Christmas.”

Nick Miller, a spokesman for the Delta subsidiary based at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Regional Airport, said the company was trying to put travelers on Delta flights. Crews were working to see how many flights Comair could handle today, but nothing was definite.

“It’s been a very busy holiday season and we deeply regret this problem for our customers,” Mr. Miller said.

He said the problem was triggered in part by flights canceled Thursday and Friday because of bad weather.

“There was a cumulative effect with the canceled flights and trying to get crew assigned that caused the system to be overwhelmed,” Mr. Miller said. “It just stopped operating.”

Residents of Victoria, Texas, had a different surprise awaiting them yesterday morning: Their first white Christmas in 86 years.

The last time Victoria saw a measurable amount of snow was 1973, when a tenth of an inch fell. That’s the same amount that fell on Christmas 1918, said Tony Merriman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

“It’s a miracle,” proclaimed Hailey Koronczok, who was watching the snow fall as she worked at a Denny’s. “Everybody’s excited and shocked that it is snowing down here.”

The snow was expected to melt as temperatures warmed into the 30s and 40s throughout the day.

Meanwhile, conditions on Indiana highways improved yesterday, two days after a winter storm dumped up to 2 feet of snow in some areas, followed by subzero temperatures.

Indiana State Police said almost all highways in southern Indiana were still covered by snow or ice.

The wintry mix caused hours of delay on Interstate 65 about midway between Indianapolis and Louisville, Ky., on Friday, when several semitrailers were jackknifed or stuck.

A few small churches in rural areas of south-central Indiana canceled Christmas services, while even more called off Christmas Eve services to keep parishioners off the treacherous roadways.

Still, AAA predicted a record 62 million people, including about 51 million motorists, would be traveling this weekend and next, when New Year’s Eve also falls on a weekend.

“We feel it’s attributed to consumer confidence being up and people feeling more comfortable traveling post September 11,” national AAA spokeswoman Aymee Ruiz said yesterday.

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