Treacherous Weather Plagues Holiday Travelers

AMARILLO, Texas, December 24, 2007 (ENS) – One person is dead and five others suffered life threatening injuries in a crash involving 80 vehicles that closed icy Interstate 40 on Saturday.

Seventeen semi-tractor trailers were involved in the wreck in the eastbound lanes at Pullman Road. Police say the accident was caused by a semi driver who lost control because of slick roads and blowing snow which limited visibility. One driver said blowing snow caused visibility to go from half a mile to zero in one second.

At least one car had its roof sheared off. Several people had to be cut out of their cars because they were pinned underneath the twisted trailers, emergency officials said.

“Eighteen people were transported to Northwest Texas [hospital], five of them critical and one fatality,” said Captain Bob Johnson of the Amarillo Fire Department.

Several survivors wrote to the “Amarillo Globe-News” today to say their lives were saved by a man who had stopped his car beside the westbound lanes and waved his arms at the eastbound drivers yelling to them to stop.

One person described the scene as “A half-mile of total chaos.” Officials say several people involved in the accident opened up Christmas gifts from the demolished vehicles and gave clothes to children and victims to keep them warm in the 23 degree temperatures and the 40 mph winds.

Blowing snow makes driving
dangerous in Indiana.
December 23, 2007
(Photo by Shelley H.)

The weather that caused trouble in Texas was part of a larger storm system that howled across the Midwest on the weekend dumping heavy snow and claiming at least 14 lives on treacherous roads.

Conditions are easing, as the storm moves out to sea this morning. Still, winds blowing at 25 mph are drawing moisture up from Lake Erie to create lake-effect snow in Buffalo, New York. Five to 10 inches of snow is forecast for western New York by Tuesday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

Thousands of Midwestern homes and businesses have no electricity, and flights were cancelled Saturday and Sunday, stranding thousands of travellers at airports across the region.

The National Weather Service reports winds blowing up to 88 miles an hour over Lake Michigan Sunday with gusts of 50 to 68 miles an hour across Chicago.

The high intensity winds forced the cancellations of 300 flights at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

Today, traffic at O’Hare and across the Midwest is back on schedule, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The storm caused widespread damage to the ComEd system including numerous broken poles, downed wires, and damaged transformers.

As of 11 this morning approximately 3,000 ComEd customers still are without power as a result of the storm. Since the storm began early Sunday morning, ComEd said it has restored power to more than 234,000 customers.

ComEd spokesman Joe Trost says the ongoing weather conditions make restoration efforts more difficult than they would ordinarily be. “Icy and snow-covered roads have impeded our access to electrical equipment in some areas. Before power can be restored, crews must clear trees from wires, replace poles and transformers and string new wire,” he said.

ComEd has 300 crews in the field working 16-hour shifts to restore customers as quickly as possible. Trost says priorities when restoring service are to address downed power lines to make sure roads are clear for police and fire departments, hospitals, heating centers and other critical customers.

While many Midwest roads are still slippery, some rivers are overflowing, adding flood risks to the mix of treacherous conditions. Today the National Weather Service posted flood warnings across the Upper Midwest including the Fox River in Wisconsin at New Munster, the Illinois River at La Salle, and the Ohio river in Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois.

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