Weather Makes A Long Road Home For Some

A winter storm packing heavy snow walloped the central United States, causing at least 5 deaths and dozens of injuries as multi-car pileups forced authorities to close parts of several major highways.

The storm Saturday blew heavy snow from Texas to Minnesota. Much of the region was still recovering from a severe ice storm early last week that knocked out electricity for hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses.

At least three people in Minnesota and one person each in Texas and Kansas were killed in traffic accidents that authorities said were weather related. Strong winds could make traveling hazardous all weekend, said Craig Cogil, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Des Moines, Iowa. Parts of the state were expected to get between 6 and 10 inches of snow by Sunday morning, he said.

In Minnesota, a man was killed when he lost control of his car on Highway 10 in Harris and went into the opposite lane and was hit by an oncoming car, according to the Chisago County Sheriff's Office. The victim was identified as John Marvin Becklin, 46, of Harris. Authorities said weather appeared to be a factor in the collision, which happened shortly after noon.

A 17-year-old girl died in an early-morning accident when she lost control of her car in Oak Grove, crossed the center line and was struck by a pickup truck, the Anoka County Sheriff's Office said. The name of the victim, who was from Oak Grove, was being withheld until relatives had been notified.

A 33-year-old West St. Paul man was killed when the car he was driving on icy Highway 7 slid sideways into oncoming traffic and was hit by an oncoming car, according to the State Patrol. The victim's 24-year-old passenger was critically injured in the crash. Their names were not immediately released.

The Minnesota State Patrol said it handled at least 347 accident reports of vehicles that ran off roads across the state.

In Texas, one person died in a chain-reaction pileup involving more than 50 vehicles, including several tractor-trailer rigs, on Interstate 40, police said. Authorities said it would take a few days to determine exactly how many were involved.

Eighteen people were taken to hospitals, two with life-threatening injuries, Sgt. Michael Poston said.

"There were cars crashing while they (firefighters) were there," Fire Department Capt. Bob Johnson told the Amarillo Globe-News for its Sunday editions. "They could hear them (the crashes), but they couldn't see them."

Many were holiday travelers, including families with small children not dressed for the weather, Sgt. Shawn McLeland said. Other drivers spotted them and opened Christmas presents to provide warmer clothing for the children.

The tangle of twisted cars and trucks shut down the interstate for most of the day. Authorities believe the pileup was caused by blowing snow and the resulting zero visibility.

In northeast Kansas, at least one person was killed in a 30-car pileup on Interstate 70, prompting authorities to close a 40-mile stretch of the highway. The pileup occurred about 30 miles west of Topeka.

The fierce snowstorm caused another wreck involving 20 to 40 vehicles, including three tractor-trailer rigs, on Interstate 29 in St. Joseph in western Missouri. Police closed about 100 miles of I-29 to the Iowa state line.

Wind was blowing at sustained speeds of 25 to 35 mph with gusts to 45 mph in Oklahoma, where U.S. 412 near Mooreland in western Oklahoma was closed after up to 20 cars slid off the road or crashed, authorities said.

Meanwhile, fog in the Chicago area hampered visibility and caused cancellations and delays for the second straight day at O'Hare International Airport. Following the cancellation of more than 200 flights there Friday, a spokesman for the airport said about 50 additional flights had been canceled because of the weather. He added that delays for all flights in and out of the airport were about an hour on average.

The holiday icon at play in Boston Friday wasn't Santa Claus spreading good cheer, but the Grinch - foiling the travel plans of thousands as snow caused more than 150 flight cancellations.

Passengers on one Delta flight to Los Angeles said they spent several hours on the tarmac before being told the plane would not be taking off.

Delta spokeswoman Betsy Talton told The Boston Globe that among the problems Thursday were unexplained delays in de-icing aircraft.

New Hampshire and northeastern Massachusetts bore the brunt of the latest storm, with some areas getting up to 9 inches of snow.

Travelers also encountered weather-related delays at airports in the New York City area Friday.

Cloudiness was delaying arriving flights at New York's LaGuardia Airport and the Newark Liberty (N.J.) International Airport by an average of more than an hour late Friday, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

Over the past five years air travel has increased steadily - this year there will be more than 6.2 million flights.

The percentage of problems is also up. This year almost 24 percent, or about one in four flights, will be delayed - the highest rate in the past decade.

President Bush has authorized the use of military air space to help ease the expected air traffic jams of holiday flights, reports CBS News correspondent Joie Chen.

Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said Wednesday that the Defense Department will open 110,000 square miles of normally off-limits military airspace to commercial flights along the Atlantic seaboard before and after Christmas. Western military airspace will also open up for flights into and out of Southern California, reports USA Today.

Critics say the airlines have not kept up with demand, by trimming budgets and staff while operating costs soar.

But the industry blames an antiquated air traffic control system.

"The fact is that the carriers are adding positions, adding people, adding new ways of accommodating passengers wherever they can," John Meenehan, executive vice president and COO of the Air Transport Association, told CBS News correspondent Hari Sreenivasan.

And there seems to be more passengers. Holiday bookings are up nearly 8 percent, but airline capacity is up just over one percent.

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