Deadly US storm disrupts Christmas plans, downs power lines

More than 200 million people under weather warnings as thousands of flights cancelled and at least a dozen dead.

A battering winter storm has left 1.7 million homes and businesses without power across the United States, as millions of people worry how the prospect of further outages will affect holiday and travel plans.

More than 200 million people were under weather warnings on Saturday, as wind chills sent temperatures down as low as minus 48 Celsius (minus 55 Fahrenheit), according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

The blinding blizzards, freezing rain and frigid cold that enveloped much of the country knocked out power from Maine to Seattle, while a major electricity grid operator warned the 65 million people it serves across the eastern US that rolling blackouts might be required.

Across the country, officials have attributed at least a dozen deaths to exposure, car crashes on icy and snow-covered roads and other effects of the storm, including two people who died in their homes outside Buffalo, New York, when emergency crews could not reach them amid historic blizzard conditions.

The storm that arrived earlier in the week downed power lines, littered highways with piles of cars in deadly accidents and led to more than 1,000 flights already cancelled so far on Saturday, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.

On Friday, the number of cancelled flights hit nearly 5,700 and Thursday had already seen 2,700 cancellations.

Heavy snow and howling winds have taken hold of much of the nation, including normally temperate southern states.

The storm was nearly unprecedented in its scope, stretching from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the border with Mexico.

Freezing rain coated much of the Pacific Northwest in a layer of ice, while people in the Northeast faced the threat of coastal and inland flooding.

Highways in the Midwest faced lengthy delays due to snowy weather or crashes and authorities in parts of Indiana, Michigan, New York and Ohio urged motorists to avoid nonessential travel.

Passenger railroad Amtrak has cancelled dozens of trains through Christmas, disrupting holiday travel for thousands.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) imposed ground stops or delays for de-icing at a number of US airports because of winter weather.

‘Enormous strain’

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told the CNN media network that the US aviation system “is operating under enormous strain” with two different storms and high winds affecting airports around the country. About 10 percent of US flights were cancelled on Thursday, Buttigieg said.

Another 10,400 US flights were delayed on Friday – including more than 40 percent of those operated by American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines – in addition to the 11,300 flights that were delayed on Thursday.

Southwest cancelled 1,238 flights on Friday, 29 percent of all its scheduled flights, while Alaska Airlines cancelled 507, or 64 percent, of its flights.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport had 357 flights, or 63 percent of departures, cancelled on Friday. The FAA lifted a ground stop there, in place due to snow and ice, but late on Friday, delays were still averaging nearly three hours.

Nearly half of departing flights at Detroit Metro were cancelled, along with 70 percent at Portland, 38 percent at New York’s LaGuardia, 29 percent at Chicago O’Hare and 27 percent at Boston.

Source: News Agencies