Roads Reopen But Some Flights Still Grounded After Snowstorm

Sunday, February 25th 2007, 2:13 pm

By: News On 6

DETROIT (AP) _ A huge winter storm plowed toward the East Coast on Sunday after dumping as much as 2 feet of snow in the upper Midwest, grounding hundreds of airline flights and closing major highways on the Plains.

Eight traffic deaths were blamed on the storm, seven in Wisconsin and one in Kansas.

Utility crews labored Sunday to restore power after the storm blacked out hundreds of thousands of homes and business in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and Ohio. One Iowa utility alone had more than 500 miles of power lines down.

Moist air the storm system pulled from the Gulf of Mexico fueled violent thunderstorms in the South, sweeping cars off roads, crumpling businesses and sending mobile homes flying. Tornadoes were reported Saturday in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

As the system stretched eastward, a dwindling band of snow extended from the eastern Dakotas across the Great Lakes to the East Coast. Six inches of snow had fallen by Sunday evening in Frederick County, Md., and Fairfax County, Va.

Three to 4 inches of snow was expected in the Washington area and motorists were warned the snow could turn to ice overnight.

A heavy snow warning was in effect for northern New Jersey counties, where anywhere from 4 to 7 inches was expected to fall.

In New York, sanitation workers were preparing for up to 7 inches of snow expected to begin Sunday evening. Some 2,000 plows and the sanitation department's 365 salt spreaders were ready to clear streets and roads citywide, authorities said.

JetBlue canceled 68 flights at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Monday because of the expected snow, a spokeswoman said. The company also canceled flights into and out of Chicago and the Washington, D.C., area over the weekend.

The cancellations were to make sure crews and planes are in the right places so the company can quickly resume operations after the snow storm, spokeswoman Alison Eshelman said Sunday.

Earlier this month, JetBlue was heavily criticized after storms stranded passengers in planes at the airport for up to 10 1/2 hours. More than 1,000 cancellations were caused by the Feb. 14 winter blast, and more than 100,000 passengers were affected.

Snow and ice forecasts prompted Pennsylvania to activate its Emergency Operations Center, but no problems had been reported like the Valentine's Day storm that left hundreds of motorists stranded.

Roads were treacherous Sunday across parts of Michigan, causing accidents and snarling traffic. ``It's extremely icy,'' said state Trooper Bronse Gavin in the Detroit suburb of Oak Park.

The storm's snow, sleet and freezing rain led airlines to cancel hundreds of flights Sunday at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and dozens more at Midway Airport, said Wendy Abrams, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Aviation. That was on top of more cancellations on Saturday, and Abrams estimated that about 1,000 stranded passengers spent the night at O'Hare.

Utilities in Iowa reported nearly 250,000 customers without electricity Sunday, most because heavy ice had brought down miles of power lines and utility poles.

``It could be at least three days if not more than one week before we get all the customers back on,'' Alliant Energy spokesman Ryan Stensland said of conditions in Iowa. ``We've got close to 2,500 poles down _ over 500 miles of line down.''

More than 83,000 customers were without power Sunday morning in Illinois, utilities said. Crews for Mid American Energy reported ice 2 inches thick coating power lines in Illinois' Mercer County, said spokesman Allan Urlis.

On the Plains, Colorado and Kansas on Sunday reopened Interstate 70, a major cross-country route. The highway had been closed for about 400 miles in both directions since Saturday from just east of Denver to Salina, Kan., because of blowing snow and slippery pavement.

The National Weather Service reported 7-foot snowdrifts in western Kansas.

As much as 2 feet of snow fell around Winona, Minn., and some local hotels were so full of stalled travelers they had to turn people away. The Holiday Inn let people sleep on couches, cots and even the floor, exhausting its supply of extra blankets and pillows.

``We just tried to fit people in as much as we could,'' hotel employee Chrissy Rybarczyk told the Winona Daily News.

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