Authorities struggle to reopen roads across the snowy South and Midwest

Friday, December 24th 2004, 3:46 pm
By: News On 6

Authorities struggled to remove abandoned cars and reopen still-slick highways across the nation's midsection Friday after a record snowfall buried the region and stranded holiday travelers and shoppers.

Kentucky highways remained hazardous, with temperatures dipping below freezing in many areas, and biting winds creating 5-foot snowdrifts.

``They're about half-scared to drive fast today,'' state Trooper Barry Meadows said.

A portion of Interstate 64 in Indiana reopened, a day after more than 100 stranded travelers were rescued from their snowbound vehicles. But the road was still treacherous because of hundreds of abandoned vehicles along a 25-mile stretch near the Illinois line.

Some Indiana churches canceled Christmas services to keep people off the road after much of the state was buried in up to 2 feet of snow.

``We were not asking parishioners to be out when police say to stay in,'' said the Rev. Dave Ferry, pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Bedford, Ind.

I-40 reopened in parts of Arkansas, where stranded travelers awoke in shelters.

With frigid temperatures forecast for Ohio on Saturday, some 275,000 homes and businesses _ about a half of them in Columbus _ were without power, and ice-covered tree branches kept falling onto power lines.

Wind chill readings below zero did not freeze out the live Nativity scene in Normal, Ill., but Monsignor Eric Powell of Epiphany Catholic Church said the role of Jesus was played by a doll instead of a baby.

``That we wouldn't want to risk,'' Powell said.

In Chicago, where the temperature was not expected to break 6 degrees and the wind chill was well below zero, sales clerks outnumbered shoppers in Chicago's Marshall Field's flagship store on Friday morning.

Shopper Mary Ann Holland, 57, of Chicago was thrilled to see no lines. ``I always come early on Christmas Eve,'' she said.

The Westfield Shoppingtown Southpark mall in suburban Cleveland decided to stay open three hours later on Christmas Eve, until 9 p.m., to make up for sluggish shopping during the sloppy storm.

``The weather has put a dent in it and they want to recoup some of it,'' said Tom Ford, who runs a kiosk that sells sports team gear.