Snow, Fierce Wind Strand Drivers, Ground Planes In Midwest

Friday, March 2nd 2007, 6:40 am

By: News On 6

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Fierce wind blew snow across roads and stranded hundreds of drivers on Midwestern highways Friday, as thousands shivered without power and airlines were forced to call off hundreds of flights.

More than a foot of snow fell in some areas, and even as the flakes stopped falling by afternoon, gusts of 40 mph prompted blizzard warnings and prevented major highways from reopening.

Officials at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport canceled 500 flights, blaming bad weather elsewhere.

In the Northeast, a storm dumped snow across northern New England, while areas to the south were left with a messy mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain.

Hundreds of miles of interstate highway in Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota remained closed for much of Friday, with plow drivers forced to pull off roads because of the wind-blown snow.

More than 100 vehicles were abandoned as their stranded drivers were rescued in Iowa, where blizzard warnings were extended into Saturday.

``Mobility and visibility are horrendous right now with wind chills hovering around zero _ conditions are very treacherous,'' Lt. Col. Greg Hapgood, a spokesman for the Iowa National Guard, said Friday afternoon.

Close to 400 rigs crowded the parking lot of the Trails Truck and Travel Center, where Interstates 90 and 35 converge at Albert Lea, Minn.

``All I see is trucks. It's just a sea of trucks,'' manager Rick Boyer said.

``Everybody's standing around watching weather reports on our display TVs. They're blocking up the aisles,'' he said.

The weather knocked out power to close to 80,000 Michigan homes and businesses, and about half were still in the dark Friday, utility officials said.

``It's a whale of a storm,'' Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said. ``Overall, things are going as well as they could.''

Pawlenty mobilized the National Guard, and the governors of Iowa and South Dakota issued disaster declarations.

A pickup truck driver died in Michigan on Friday after colliding with a delivery truck on a slick road. Traffic accidents Wednesday and Thursday also killed another person in Michigan, a couple in North Dakota and a woman in Wisconsin. A sixth person died while shoveling snow in Nebraska.

Minneapolis had 11 inches of snow by sunrise Friday. Western Iowa got up to 17 inches, and strong wind built up drifts 10 feet high. The eastern Dakotas had up to 18 inches.

The storm, the area's second major winter blast in a week, was part of a larger line of thunderstorms and snowstorms that stretched from Minnesota to the Gulf Coast. Tornadoes killed 20 people in Missouri, Georgia and Alabama, including eight students in an Alabama high school, authorities said.

In Maine, a woman was critically injured when her car spun into a canal, stranding her for three hours, and a plow driver had to swim to safety after his vehicle smashed through a guardrail and into a river.

New York City got 2 1/2 inches of rain, and drivers in northern suburbs found flooded highways and water that rose above park benches. A mudslide stopped a commuter train, but no one was hurt.

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