December 21, 2012
Massive snowstorm causes fatal 25-vehicle pile-up in Iowa
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP):
The first widespread snowstorm of the season crawled across the Midwest on Thursday, with white-out conditions stranding holiday travellers and sending drivers sliding over slick roads, including into a fatal 25-vehicle pile-up in Iowa.
The storm, which dumped a foot of snow in parts of Iowa and Wisconsin, was part of a system that began in the Rockies earlier in the week before trekking into the Midwest. It was expected to move across the Great Lakes overnight before moving into Canada.
The storm led airlines to cancel about 1,000 flights ahead of the Christmas holiday - relatively few compared to past big storms, though the number was climbing.
On the southern edge of the system, tornadoes destroyed several homes in Arkansas and peeled the roofs from buildings, toppled trucks and blew down oak trees and limbs in Alabama.
In Iowa, drivers were blinded by blowing snow and didn't see vehicles that had slowed or stopped on Interstate 35 about 60 miles north of Des Moines, state police said. A chain reaction of crashes involving semi- trailers and passenger cars closed down a section of the highway. Officials said two people were killed and seven injured.
"It's time to listen to warnings and get off the road," said Iowa State Patrol Col. David Garrison.
Thomas Shubert, a clerk at a store in Gretna near Omaha, Nebraska, said his brother drove him to work in his truck, but some of his neighbours weren't so fortunate.
"I saw some people in my neighbourhood trying to get out. They made it a few feet, and that was about it," Shubert said.
Along with Thursday's fatal accident in Iowa, the storm was blamed for traffic deaths in Nebraska, Kansas and Wisconsin. In southeastern Utah, a woman who tried to walk for help after her car became stuck in snow died on Tuesday night.
The heavy, wet snow made some unplowed streets in Des Moines nearly impossible to navigate in anything other than a four-wheel drive vehicle. Even streets that had been plowed were snow-packed and slippery.
The storm made travel difficult from Kansas to Wisconsin, forcing road closures, including a 120-mile stretch of Interstate 35 from Ames, Iowa through Albert Lea, Minnesota, Sections of Interstate 80 in Nebraska and Interstate 29 in Missouri that had been closed were reopened on Thursday afternoon. Iowa and Wisconsin activated National Guard troops to help rescue stranded drivers.
In Chicago, commuters began on Thursday with heavy fog and cold, driving rain, and forecasters said snow would hit by mid-afternoon.
Airlines delayed and cancelled hundreds of flights out of Chicago's O'Hare and Midway international airports. Southwest Airlines cancelled all of its flights at its Midway hub that were scheduled for after 4:30 p.m., and American Airlines said it was shutting down its O'Hare operations after 8 p.m.
Before the storm, several cities in the Midwest had broken records for the number of consecutive days without measurable snow.
As far as the region's drought, meteorologists said the storm wouldn't make much of a dent. It takes a foot or more of snow to equal an inch of water, said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people lost power in Arkansas, Iowa and Nebraska as heavy snow and strong winds pulled down lines. Smaller outages were reported in Alabama, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Louisiana.
"The roads have been so bad our crews have not been able to respond to them," said Justin Foss, a spokesman for Alliant Energy, which had 13,000 customers without power in central Iowa. "We have giant four-wheel-drive trucks with chains on them, so when we can't get there it's pretty rough."
'Along with Thursday's fatal
accident in Iowa, the storm was blamed for traffic deaths in Nebraska, Kansas and Wisconsin.