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Wind, snow pack a punch in Midwest

March 03, 2007|From the Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — 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 cancel hundreds of flights.

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

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

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 today.

"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.

In North Dakota, a section of Interstate 94 was shut down.

The weather knocked out power to nearly 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.

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 line of thunderstorms and snowstorms from Minnesota to the Gulf Coast.

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