US winter storm causes chaos
At least 24 deaths reported as bad weather hits transportation system and church services.
Last Modified: 26 Dec 2009 10:01 GMT
Slippery roads were blamed for at least 18 deaths
this week [EPA]

Massive storms have spread snow and ice across large parts of the United States, claiming the lives of at least 24 people.

The stormy weather has caused almost a complete shutdown of transportation services, leaving millions of Americans stranded.

As Americans rushed to get home for the holidays, snow reached up to 60cm in some areas.

Heavy snow has grounded flights, stranded drivers and forced scores of churches to cancel Christmas services.

Tom Head, a judge in Lubbock County, in the southern US state of Texas, who is helping emergency workers deal with the storm, said officials have responded to more than 225 road accidents in his area since Thursday night.

"We've had five to six inches of snow [about 13cm] but the wind has been blowing, so we've had drifts three to four feet [about 92cm] high," he told Al Jazeera on Friday.

"It's slowed traffic down considerably. We've had a number of people stranded in cars.

"The dangerous part is, it thawed out a little bit yesterday then it froze again so the roads are really slick."

Flights cancellations

Nearly 100 flights from the Minneapolis-St Paul airport were cancelled by midday. By late afternoon, though, a spokesman said most flights were back on schedule.

The Oklahoma City airport shut down one of its three runways and cancelled nearly 30 flights.

Two-hour-plus delays were reported at Houston's Hobby Airport, though by Thursday evening that was down to 15 minutes or less.

Chicago's O'Hare had hour-long delays and more than 30 cancellations, and Wichita's Mid-Continent airport cancelled most flights on Thursday.

The weather closed down Sioux Falls Regional Airport in South Dakota altogether late on Thursday.

Blizzard warnings were issued for Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin.

Drivers were encouraged to pack emergency kits before setting out during what is normally one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

The storm was also expected to cover highways in the East with ice on Christmas.

Slow-moving storm

Slippery roads were blamed for at least 18 deaths this week as the slow-moving storm made its way across the country from the Southwest.

The snowstorm also slowed some last-minute Christmas shopping. At the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, some shoppers had entire stores to themselves.

High winds blowing snow across icy roads were a concern elsewhere. Interstate highways were closed in Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas.

Rick Perry, the Texas governor, activated military personnel to help drivers. John Hoeven, the North Dakota governor, placed additional state troopers and the National Guard on standby.

Brad Henry, the Oklahoma governor, declared a statewide state of emergency due to what he described as a "record-breaking storm".

The state set up shelters in central Oklahoma for motorists stranded overnight and closed all interstate routes and several turnpikes.

The storm closed Oklahoma's biggest airport. Mark Kraneneberg, a spokesman for Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, said there were about 100 stranded passengers and some airport employees were stuck as well.

The storm also knocked out power for more than 10,000 residents in Oklahoma on Thursday evening.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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