- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 25, 2008


CHICAGO (AP) — Christmas Day was the second morning Tom and Kristina Waltz and their two daughters awoke at O’Hare International Airport, after days of flight delays and cancellations that marred their holiday travel plans.

The family, from Vancouver, Wash., tried to fly out of Portland, Ore., on Sunday, but a blast of snow and ice kept them from getting a flight for two days. They finally reached Chicago but then were stuck spending two nights at a hotel inside O’Hare, unlike others who had to sleep on floors and cots in the terminal. They were eager for Thursday-evening flight to Miami, where they planned to board a Caribbean cruise on Saturday.

“We are checked in” for the flight, Mrs. Waltz, a teacher, said Thursday morning. “We’ll go into the airport, have some lunch and play cards some more.”

Elsewhere, deep snow was still causing travel problems on Christmas Day in the West, where the National Weather Service posted winter storm warnings and advisories for large sections. A blizzard warning for the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado warned that as much as 3 feet of snow was possible.

In California’s Sierra Nevada, heavy snow and whiteout conditions shut down an 80-mile stretch of Interstate 80 for several hours Christmas morning. Westbound traffic was halted at the Nevada line and eastbound travelers stopped at Applegate, Calif. The California Highway Patrol said the highway reopened at midmorning, but drivers were warned to be prepared for slow going.

About 2 feet of snow fell overnight in the mountains around Lake Tahoe, bringing totals at some resorts in the past two weeks to 10 feet.

“This has been a perfect storm, where it comes in and brings some good solid snow,” Russ Pecoraro, spokesman for Heavenly Mountain Resort, said Thursday.

In the Northwest, hammered by storms over the past week, the weight of snow, ice and water collapsed the roof of the Capitol High School in Olympia, Wash., early Thursday. Assistant Fire Chief Greg Wright estimated that more than 2,500 square feet of roof fell into the building. No one was injured.

Nationwide, at least 30 people were killed Tuesday and Wednesday in crashes on rain- and ice-slickened roads, many in the country’s midsection.

No new delays or cancellations were reported Thursday at either O’Hare or Chicago’s Midway International Airport, said Department of Aviation spokesman Gregg Cunningham. On Wednesday, more than 100 flights were canceled at O’Hare, the nation’s second busiest airport, as airports across the country recovered from winter storms.

One American Airlines plane hit an icy patch while turning onto a runway and slid sideways into the grass. There were no injuries, but the 54 passengers had to be put on other Christmas Eve flights.

Though cancellations dropped off from more than 500 a day earlier and delays were shortened to about 30 minutes, airlines at O’Hare still requested 75 cots for passengers Wednesday night, said Greg Cunningham, a Chicago Aviation Department spokesman. Some people slept on the floor.

The temperature outside the terminal fell to zero, with a wind chill of 9 below, the National Weather Service said.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a winter storm emergency Wednesday as city and county officials struggled to keep up with record or near-record snowfall amounts in 30 of the state’s 39 counties.

Temperatures rose and light rain fell across the western part of the state Wednesday night, melting some of the ice on roads, but forecasters said 2 more inches of snow was likely in the Seattle area on Thursday. Up to 18 inches of snow was possible in the Cascades; in the eastern half of the state, Spokane expected 5 to 7 inches of new snow atop a heavy layer that accumulated during weeks of storms.

On Wednesday, an avalanche in the Rocky Mountains killed two snowmobilers in northern Utah. The Utah Avalanche Center warned people not to venture into the back country.

Slick roads Tuesday and Wednesday were blamed for seven deaths in Wisconsin; five in Ohio; four each in Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri; two in Kansas; and one apiece in Oklahoma, Iowa, Massachusetts and West Virginia.

Associated Press writers Sandra Chereb in Reno, Nev.; Rupa Shenoy in Chicago; Tim Klass in Seattl; and Tim Fought in Portland, Ore., contributed to this report.

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