Snow closes schools in Midwest; streets swamped in Mississippi

Friday, February 6, 2004

Deadly storms dumped up to 10 inches of snow on parts of the Midwest and Arkansas, closing hundreds of schools and offices, sending a plane sliding off a taxiway and giving greyhounds a day off from the races Thursday.

Farther south, heavy rain and lightning swamped streets and knocked out power in Mississippi, with Gov. Haley Barbour declaring a state of emergency in the hardest-hit areas.

Storm warnings remained in effect late Thursday for parts of the South and much of the Midwest, and new warnings were posted for Pennsylvania and western New York as the largest weather system journeyed east.

The Midwestern snow began falling Wednesday night and by Thursday had topped 9 inches in northern Kansas and 10 inches in central Nebraska. As much as 6 inches fell in northern Arkansas.

Benjamin Williams, a senior at the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, got to leave his chemical engineering lab class several hours early -- but a test today kept him from goofing the day away.

"It's just more time to study," he said.

Staff off the roads

The parking lot at the Sapp Bros. Truck Stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa, was "pretty full" by midafternoon, but assistant manager Stormie Underwood said it wasn't clear whether drivers would heed advice to stay off the roads 'til morning.

"They won't listen to us," she said. "They are bringing a lot of attitude because of the cold weather."

Highways in eastern Kansas were packed with snow and ice for the morning commute, and about 75 accidents and slide-offs were reported in the Kansas City area alone before conditions improved with warmer afternoon temperatures.

"A lot of people think because they have four-wheel drive, they can go faster," said Sgt. John Hotz, of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. "Unfortunately, when it comes time to stop, they find that four-wheel drive doesn't help you stop."

The snow was blamed for at least five fatal crashes, including a head-on collision Thursday in Barry County, Mo., that killed a 26-year-old woman.

Four others died Wednesday in Nebraska, which was seeing its third winter storm since Jan. 24.

The pileup caused the roof of a dairy barn near Arlington to cave, killing some cattle, and the Grand Island school district declared its first snow day of the school year Thursday.

"There was no way to avoid it today," Superintendent Steve Joel said.

Closings were not limited to schools: court closed in Jackson, Mo; ConAgra Foods canceled a shift in Huntsville, Ark.; and greyhound racing was called off at a track in Kansas City, Kan.

A plane carrying 29 people skidded off a taxiway upon arrival at Kansas City International Airport, but no one aboard United Airlines flight 5764 was injured.

Mississippi had reports of tornadoes but the only confirmed twister was in rural Newton County near Hickory, the National Weather Service said. Flash flooding hit the state's southwestern region, felling trees and knocking out power to about 1,500 customers.

"We are expecting a lot more rain before this thing is over," said forecaster Mark Wilson, in the weather service's Jackson office. "And in many areas the soil is pretty much saturated already."

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