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Snowstorm slams road, air travel in U.S. Midwest

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 5 Mar 2013 20:06 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Storm blamed for fatal accident in Wisconsin * More than 1,000 flights canceled in and out of Chicago * Snow and ice make driving difficult in several states (Adds additional detail on cancellations, school closures) CHICAGO, March 5 (Reuters) - A deadly late winter storm dumped heavy snow on the Midwestern United States on Tuesday, contributing to numerous highway crashes and flight cancellations as it moved east toward the Ohio Valley and the mid-Atlantic states. More than 1,100 flights were cut in and out of Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation. Another 107 more were canceled at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, according to the flight tracking service. In Chicago, where the National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning through midnight, residents were girding for between 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) of snow, much of it expected to fall around the evening rush hour. At a late morning press conference hosted by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the city's Office of Emergency Management & Communications said nearly 300 snow plows were working to keep the city's 4,100 miles of roads clear. Temperatures above freezing in many parts of the city were helping those efforts, OEMC said, turning much of the fallen snow into water. But the situation was expected to deteriorate in the afternoon as the mercury plunged below freezing. "Obviously as the evening comes and temperatures drop, this will start to accumulate," Emanuel said. Southwest Airlines canceled all of its flights in and out of Chicago's Midway Airport through 6 p.m. as a precaution, the Chicago Department of Aviation said. Hundreds of schools were closed in northern Illinois, according to local media. But for the more than 400,000 students enrolled in Chicago's public school system, the nation's third-largest school district, normal class schedules were in effect, according to the district. Roads in northwest Illinois had patches of ice and snow on Tuesday and road crews were bracing in northeast Illinois for the storm, which began dropping snow on Chicago near the middle of the morning rush hour. Monique Bond, a spokeswoman for the Illinois State Police, said that as of noon Central time, there were no serious crashes anywhere in the state and no traffic accident fatalities blamed on the storm. In western Wisconsin, a semi-tractor flipped off an Interstate 94 bridge and fully submerged in the Red Cedar River in Menomonie early Tuesday, said Christine Ouellete, a Wisconsin Transportation Department spokeswoman. Wisconsin rescue crews recovered the body of a man thought to be the driver of the truck and were searching for the body of his co-driver, who was presumed dead, State Patrol Lieutenant Jeff Lorentz said. Wisconsin's transportation department listed numerous roads as snow-covered or slippery from the storm across southwestern Wisconsin, but no road closings. Slick roads contributed to numerous crashes and a slow commute across the border in Minnesota. Driving conditions remained difficult along highways in parts of North Dakota. Minnesota's public safety department reported 122 crashes, but no fatalities from the storm so far. The storm was expected to move eastward over the Ohio Valley and then the central Appalachians and mid-Atlantic states on Wednesday, hitting Washington with its biggest snowfall in possibly two years, the National Weather Service said. Winter storm warnings were in effect for all or parts of 16 states from the Upper Midwest to the mid-Atlantic on Tuesday, National Weather Service spokesman Chris Vaccaro said. The storm was forecast to move across Ohio and the Tennessee Valley and merge with a developing storm off the mid-Atlantic states that could produce heavy, wet snow overnight and through Wednesday into the mid-Atlantic states that could bring down trees and power lines, Vaccaro said. "It will be a wet, heavy, gloppy snow consistent with wallpaper paste," he said. In a separate storm, heavy snow and high winds were blamed for two major traffic accidents in the Colorado mountains, near the ski resort of Vail, involving more than 50 vehicles. Three people were hospitalized from a 25-vehicle chain- reaction crash that closed a stretch of Interstate 70, the Summit County Sheriff's Office said in a statement. "None of the injuries were reported to be serious," the statement said. (Reporting by James B. Kelleher in Chicago, David Bailey in Minneapolis, Jane Sutton in Miami, Ian Simpson in Washington, Keith Coffman in Denver and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Andrew Hay and Sofina Mirza-Reid)

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