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Travelers battered by severe winter weather

/ Source: staff and news service reports

The blast of winter weather that dumped significant amounts of snow on Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, along with snow and freezing temperatures along the Midwest and East Coast, continued to deal headaches and setbacks to holiday travelers on Monday., a Web site that offers flight tracking and airport status checks, reported excessive delays at several of the nation's busiest airports, including Chicago's O'Hare, Newark Liberty, La Guardia, Los Angeles International, Seattle-Tacoma International and others.

Even fair-weather airports weren’t immune from tie-ups. George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston was experiencing significant delays, according to FlightStats.

In the Seattle area, hard hit by a rare snowstorm over the weekend, limited service resumed Monday at Sea-Tac Airport, but thousands of people were stranded because of all the flight cancellations over the weekend. Sea-Tac spokesman Perry Cooper said Monday the airport had been distributing water and blankets and he hopes no one stranded Monday will still be on hold at Christmas.

The Portland, Ore., airport also had many flight cancellations, though it remained open.

On the other side of the country, at Reagan National Airport near Washington, D.C., Rebecca Gray, 30, of South Berwick, Maine, spent the night with about 250 other people including her 3-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son.

“There was a lot of people sleeping on the floor,” she said Monday morning. “There were babies last night sleeping out there. Women and children shouldn't have been left like that while people said ‘it's not our problem’ and went home.”

Several airlines urged passengers to rebook flights online from their homes, rather than clog ticket counters. Virgin America encouraged passengers not to fly out of Seattle on Sunday by waiving ticket-change fees for anyone who decided to stay home.

Stuck for days
Those hoping to save money in tough economic times by taking the bus were stymied. A few dozen passengers were stranded at Greyhound’s Seattle terminal Sunday, with no buses running, and some people had been there for days. Fed up, some passengers rented cars and braved the slippery roads on their own.

Barton, a 30-year-old diesel mechanic, said he left Florida on Dec. 9 for a 3,700-mile trip to Bellingham, Wash., where he planned to catch a weekly ferry to Alaska. He arrived in Seattle on Tuesday and said the snow kept him from making it to Bellingham.

Taylor Steen, 5, waits for a flight home to Phoenix, Ariz. on Sunday, Dec. 21, 2008 at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in SeaTac, Wash. Two runways are operational at SeaTac Airport, but airlines are canceling many flights. Airport spokesman Perry Cooper says hundreds of people are stranded waiting for their next flight. Peter Haley / THE NEWS TRIBUNE

“As soon as I get there, I’ll get there,” he said. “I don’t particularly want to spend Christmas in a Greyhound station.”

Steven Jemison, a 39-year-old steakhouse chef from Osage Beach, Mo., was hoping to make it to his sister’s home in San Diego for Christmas on Thursday and was taking the bus because “with the economy, everyone’s trying to save as much money as they can.”

He had been stuck at the Seattle terminal since Friday, but that was nothing new. He also had to wait in Chicago for four days and in Spokane for three because of foul weather.

“It’s been like this all across the top part of the country,” he said.

As for the accommodations, “they’re not the greatest.”

“I mean, change the TV station; play a movie or something,” he said. “Keep people occupied. And get blankets or cots for the kids, or at least for the kids and the elderly. There’s no reason a 70-year-old should have to sleep sitting up.”

'Wait and see'
Greyhound spokesman Eric Wesley in Dallas said the company was doing what it could. The company reported delays in between Seattle and Billings, Mont.; Portland, Ore.; and Vancouver, British Columbia.

“We’re going to do our best to take care of the passengers,” he said. “We’ll wait and see what the weather does before we put any passengers on the highway.”

Amtrak also canceled train service Sunday between Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver; and between Seattle and Spokane. Service from Seattle to Los Angeles was still running, but with “extreme delays,” Amtrak said in a news release.

Crystal Kunze, a 59-year-old retiree from Onalaska, Wis., boarded an Amtrak train in Chicago around 1:30 p.m. and hadn’t moved an inch seven hours later. She was traveling with her sister and grandson to visit her daughter in New Braunfels, Texas.

She waited six hours for a Saturday morning train in Wisconsin only to end up taking a bus to Milwaukee and then a train to Chicago, she said, holding a book in her lap. She was supposed to arrive in Texas on Monday night but held out little hope that she’d get there soon.

“As long as we make it by Christmas, it will be fine,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.