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Stranded travelers face not-so merry Christmas

Winter Weather Airport Travel
Tom and Kristina Waltz, of Vancouver, Wash., play cards with their daughters, Jessica, left, and Samantha at Chicago's O'Hare Hilton on Wednesday. The family were spending their second night at O'Hare due to bad weather as they attempted to get to Miami for a cruise.M. Spencer Green / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Christmas Day was the second morning Tom and Kristina Waltz and their two daughters awoke at O’Hare International Airport, after days of flight delays and cancellations that marred their holiday travel plans.

The family from Vancouver, Wash., tried to fly out of Portland, Ore., on Sunday, but a blast of snow and ice prevented them from catching a flight for two days. They finally reached Chicago, but then were stuck spending two nights at a hotel inside O’Hare, unlike others who had to sleep on floors and cots in the terminal. They were eager for their Thursday evening flight to Miami, where they planned to board a Caribbean cruise on Saturday.

“We are checked in” for the flight, Kristina Waltz, a teacher, said Thursday morning. “We’ll go into the airport, have some lunch and play cards some more.”

Elsewhere, deep snow was still causing travel problems on Christmas Day in the West, where the National Weather Service posted winter storm warnings and advisories for large sections. A blizzard warning for the San Juan mountains in southwest Colorado warned that as much as 3 feet of snow was possible.

In California’s Sierra Nevada, heavy snow and whiteout conditions led police to shut down an 80-mile stretch of Interstate 80 for several hours on Christmas between the California-Nevada line and Applegate, Calif. The state Highway Patrol cautioned drivers to be prepared for slow going.

About 2 feet of snow fell overnight in the mountains around Lake Tahoe, bringing totals at some resorts in the past two weeks to 10 feet.

“The powder is so deep, skiers need windshield wipers on their goggles as they come down the mountain,” said Homewood Mountain Resort general manager Kent Hoopingarner.

“This is one of the snowiest Christmas holiday periods I can remember,” he said.

In the Northwest, hammered by storms over the past week, the weight of snow, ice and water collapsed the roof of Capitol High School early Thursday in Olympia, Wash. Assistant Fire Chief Greg Wright estimated that more than 2,500 square feet of roof fell into the building. No one was injured.

Spokane, Wash., broke a record Thursday for most snowfall in the month of December. As of 4 p.m., Spokane had received 46.2 inches of snow, smashing the previous record of 42.7 inches set in 1996, said Laurie Nisbet of the National Weather Service.

Much of northern and southeastern Arizona came under winter storm warnings on Christmas Day as the first of two powerful storms moved across the state.

The National Weather Service said as much as 6 inches of new snow had fallen in Flagstaff by late Thursday morning and another 6 inches could accumulate overnight with the coming of the second storm.

About 10,000 Salt Lake City-area residents were left without electricity to light Christmas trees Thursday morning after nearly a foot of snow fell in the midst of frigid temperatures. Utilities managed to restore power within the hour.

A 21-year-old skier was killed in an avalanche on Christmas Day at the Squaw Valley ski resort in California. Two snowmobilers also died in an avalanche Wednesday in northern Utah.

Nationwide, at least 30 people were killed Tuesday and Wednesday in crashes on rain- and ice-slickened roads, many in the country’s midsection.

Nearly a dozen flights were canceled Thursday at O’Hare, but no delays were reported. Chicago’s Midway International Airport had no delays or cancellations, according to the aviation department.

On Wednesday, more than 100 flights were canceled at O’Hare, the nation’s second busiest airport, as airports across the country recovered from winter storms.

One American Airlines plane left a gate at O’Hare but hit an icy patch while turning onto a runway and slid sideways into the grass. There were no injuries, but the 54 passengers had to be put on other Christmas Eve flights.

Dangerously slippery roads
Though cancellations dropped off from more than 500 a day earlier and delays were shortened to about 30 minutes, airlines at O’Hare still requested 75 cots for passengers Wednesday night, said Greg Cunningham, a Chicago aviation department spokesman. Some people slept on the floor.

The temperature outside the terminal fell to zero, with a wind chill of 9 below, the National Weather Service said.

Elsewhere, wind gusting to more than 30 mph blacked out thousands of homes and businesses on Christmas in New Hampshire, two weeks to the day after a devastating ice storm knocked out power across much of the region. The utilities Unitil and Public Service Co. of New Hampshire said the outages affected more than 100 communities.