Storm closes Texas schools, businesses

Thursday, January 18, 2007

SAN ANTONIO -- An icy storm blamed for at least 59 deaths in nine states spread snow and freezing rain across Texas all the way to the Mexican border Wednesday, closing the Alamo, glazing freeways and immobilizing communities unaccustomed to such cold. Accumulations were light by many regions' standards -- the Dallas area topped out at 3 inches of snow -- but hundreds of airline flights were canceled, tens of thousands of electricity customers lost power and a 300-mile stretch of Interstate 10, a major east-west highway that cuts through the state, was closed overnight.

Marc and Courtney Unger, visiting San Antonio with their 3- and 7-year-old boys from Tallahassee, Fla., found most of their plans wrecked by the cold weather and closed attractions.

Instead of visiting the Alamo, the Children's Museum or Sea World, the boys amused themselves knocking icicles off signs and benches.

"We're very disappointed it didn't go those few extra degrees colder for snow," Unger said, laughing.

Across the country, storms since Friday have cut off what had been an unseasonably mild winter in many areas. Six deaths were blamed on the storm in Texas.

In Oklahoma, the ice storm was blamed for at least 23 deaths, most from auto accidents, and about 78,000 utility customers in eastern Oklahoma remained without power.

In the mountains north of Los Angeles, a sudden snowstorm brought traffic to a halt on busy Interstate 5. Snow mixed with hail also fell at lower elevations of northern Los Angeles County, leaving some neighborhoods with rare coatings of white.

California already had been suffering from an unusual cold snap that threatened many of its winter crops and wiped out a most of its citrus.

In Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, roads were largely empty Wednesday morning. Motorists unaccustomed to driving on ice took the day off after waking up to light snow, trees sagging with ice and icicle-draped cars.

Many schools closed for the day or opened late.

Freezing rain and sleet were reported in Laredo and other communities along the Mexican border.

Tree limbs laden with ice snapped and brought down electrical lines in the San Antonio area, where as many 41,000 customers lost power overnight.

More than 200 flights out of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, San Antonio and Houston were canceled as officials worked to de-ice runways.

About 50 motorists were stranded at a convention center in Ozona. The jailhouse lent blankets and pillows to the emergency shelter.

"They have air mattresses and cots for everybody -- and pizza and doughnuts," said Joe Stokhaug, at the shelter with his pregnant wife.

In addition to the fatalities in Oklahoma and Texas, the storm was blamed for nine deaths in Missouri, eight in Iowa, four each in New York and Michigan, three in Arkansas and one each in Maine and Indiana.

Associated Press writers Justin Juozapavicius in McAlester, Okla., Liz Austin Peterson in Austin, Rasha Madkour in Houston and Terry Wallace in Dallas contributed to this report.

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