Blizzards, accidents slow holiday travel for those returning

Monday, November 28, 2005

DENVER -- The trip home after Thanksgiving was slow going for many travelers Sunday as blizzard conditions wreaked havoc from Colorado to the Midwest.

The major airports reported few delays outside the central part of the country, where a storm system brought blowing snow and thunderstorms.

Rain delayed flights out of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport up to an hour and a half Sunday morning, but improved to about 30-minute delays by afternoon, Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said. Some 210,000 passengers were expected to pass through its concourses Sunday.

The biggest trouble spot for travelers stretched from Colorado through Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas where blizzard conditions and freezing rain sent cars spinning off roads and forced a shutdown of several highways, including a large stretch of eastbound Interstate 70, the major east-west corridor, from Denver to the Kansas line.

Freezing rain

Freezing rain turned roads to ice rinks for miles around Fargo, N.D.

"It is bumper to bumper," North Dakota Transportation Department district supervisor Bruce Nord said. "There's slush on the road. It's just unbelievable, the traffic. When one goes in the ditch, it takes three or four people along."

In Colorado, Denver International Airport appeared to have missed the worst of the storm, but to the east, strong winds were creating whiteout conditions.

As many as 25 cars were involved in an accident 50 miles east of Limon as visibility in the blowing snow dropped to nearly zero.

As the area's hotels quickly filled up with travelers, state transportation officials also shut down eastbound traffic at E-470 on the outskirts of Denver to prevent travelers from becoming stranded with no place to stay.

"There are horrible ground conditions out there," said Stacy Stegman of the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Julie and Michael Ward of Wichita, Kan., were thankful to get one of the last rooms at the Tyme Square Inn in Limon after getting turned away at three other hotels. The wind outside was gusting up to about 60 mph.

"We'll just go when it's safe. We have a four-wheel drive vehicle, but that doesn't make you any safer in this," said Julie Ward. They had spent Thanksgiving in Fort Collins with her father.

The post-holiday traffic was backed up in other states as well. In Arkansas, intense thunderstorms brought hail and tornado warnings to the western part of the state.

In Texas, Interstate 35 from Waco to Hillsboro was bumper-to-bumper with cars slowed to about 25 mph, not because of the weather, but simply for the sheer number of people headed north, officials said.

In Arizona, a van crash that killed two people on Interstate 17 north of Phoenix backed up traffic for several miles. Earlier Sunday, two people died in a motorcycle crash on Highway 89 near Prescott, police said.

It was a lack of traffic that struck passengers at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport. Tom Will, 57, of Youngstown, Ohio, marveled at short lines at the ticket counter and the empty spaces in the parking deck.

"Not too bad at all," he said.

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