Image: Delayed passengers wait at New York's Pennsylvania Station.
Ray Stubblebine  /  Reuters
An Amtrak employee answers questions for passengers during delays at New York's Pennsylvania Station, on Thursday.
updated 11/25/2004 1:25:59 PM ET 2004-11-25T18:25:59

Millions of holiday travelers slogged through snow, rain and traffic delays across the nation Thursday in the annual trek home for Thanksgiving. Thousands of them started their trip Wednesday stuck in airports or driving on slippery roads as a snowstorm struck the Midwest, but by Thursday afternoon, most flight delays had ben cleared.

A blanket of white stretched from the Great Lakes region to the central Plains. Accumulations from the Midwest's first major snowfall of the season ranged from 4 inches in southeastern Iowa to 9 inches in southern Michigan, the National Weather Service said.

The snow caused delays as long as three hours Wednesday at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, and nearly 50 flights were canceled outright. More than 300 people stayed the night at the airport, Department of Aviation spokeswoman Annette Martinez said.

There were more minor delays Thursday morning as workers pushed to get the canceled flights in the air.

The National Weather Service said parts of Illinois got up to 8 inches of snow Wednesday, while 4 inches fell in southeastern Iowa and up to 9 inches was expected in southern Michigan in the Midwest's first major snowfall of the season. The region was also hit by strong thunderstorms, high winds and icy conditions that made driving treacherous.

Video: Long lines

Marc Hendrickson of Seattle gave up on flying after O'Hare canceled his connecting flight to Madison, Wis. He bought a bus ticket to meet his girlfriend in Wisconsin and the two planned to drive to Dubuque, Iowa, for the holiday.

"I just want to get there -- that's my main concern," Hendrickson said.

Bad weather in Michigan forced Northwest Airlines to cancel 37 flights, 22 of them into or out of Detroit. At Lansing's Capital City Airport, a Northwest Airlines jet carrying 87 passengers and four crew slid off a snow-slicked runway during landing. No one was injured.

Gusts of 57 mph were recorded near Champaign, Ill. High winds along Interstate 74 near Greensburg, Ind., caused a semitrailer to overturn, leaving the highway strewn with debris.

Indiana had also had severe thunderstorms and heavy snow. The rain fell across the south, the snow in the north.

"We've had quite a few crashes -- slideoffs, fender-benders and people ending up in ditches, but no injuries," said Indiana State Trooper Tom Szymanski.

Bumper-to-bumper highways

Elsewhere in the country, highways were bumper-to-bumper in Georgia as drivers faced thunderstorms and a threat of tornadoes, part of a system that killed at least four people elsewhere in the South.

"We're seeing some hectic and chaotic driving situations -- the road rage, the rear endings, people not allowing other motorists to change lanes," said Georgia State Patrol Trooper Larry Schnall.

At the Atlanta airport, many flights were delayed and a few were diverted because of the severe weather in the region.

Rain delays in the Northeast

The weather also disrupted travel in the Northeast Wednesday. Airports in New York City, Boston and Newark, N.J., experienced delays up to two hours because of rain.

Drivers cruised through Pennsylvania Turnpike toll plazas for free Wednesday after toll collectors and maintenance workers went on strike hours before the holiday rush. Turnpike managers began collecting tolls early Thanksgiving Day.

A survey conducted for AAA by the Travel Industry Association of America said 30.6 million people, or 3 percent more than in 2003, were expected to hit the road during the holiday weekend, even with gasoline prices nearly one-third higher than a year ago. An additional 6.6 million were likely to travel by plane, train or bus.

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