- The Washington Times - Friday, December 26, 2008

CHICAGO | 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 prevented them from catching 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 their 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 said that as much as 3 feet of snow was possible.

In California’s Sierra Nevada, heavy snow and whiteout conditions led police to shut down an 80-mile stretch of Interstate 80 for several hours on Christmas between the California-Nevada line and Applegate, Calif. The state Highway Patrol cautioned drivers 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.

“The powder is so deep, skiers need windshield wipers on their goggles as they come down the mountain,” said Homewood Mountain Resort general manager Kent Hoopingarner.

“This is one of the snowiest Christmas holiday periods I can remember,” he said.

In the Northwest, hammered by storms over the past week, the weight of snow, ice and water collapsed the roof of Capitol High School early Thursday in Olympia, Wash. 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 left a gate at O’Hare but 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.

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