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Snow, Snafu, Strands Thousands

Thousands of passengers were stranded at Reno-Tahoe International Airport Sunday, a day after a snowstorm and an airport equipment malfunction forced dozens of flights to be canceled or delayed.

Airport spokesman Brian Kulpin says about 2,000 people were unable to book flights out of the city until Monday or Tuesday because most flights were already full on the airport's busiest day of the year.

The snafu in Reno only added to the already busy homeward bound traffic after the long Thanksgiving weekend, which saw congestion nationwide at airports and on the roads.

From the West's snow covered roads to the Northeast's rain-slicked streets, the annual holiday rush home was more like a crawl, reports CBS News Correspondent Kelly Cobiella. In Florida, a blown tire started a chain reaction crash that closed the turnpike for four hours. Six people were killed and traffic snaked back 15 miles in both directions. Of the 37 million holiday travelers, most drove, but there was plenty of traffic at the nation's airports where passengers packed into terminals and braced for long lines.

At Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta - one of the nation's busiest hubs for air travel - lines were memorably long at daybreak but soon shrank down to less remarkable proportions.

"I just thought it would be worse, but this is so manageable," said Melissa Patrick of Alpharetta, who was returning home with her family. "I have no horror stories."

Despite some 290,000 people passing through Hartsfield Sunday - about 100,000 more than a typical day - flights there had minimal delays of 15 minutes of less, except for destinations in the Northeast. Flights to Boston's Logan International Airport had the longest delays, averaging nearly three hours, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

In Reno - which typically handles about 11,000 passengers on the Sunday after Thanksgiving - the frustration level rose as travelers were forced to exercise the art of patience.

Over 40 departures were canceled or delayed during a seven-hour period Saturday after a malfunction in the airport's instrument landing system. Twenty-eight arrivals also were affected.

At nearby Lake Tahoe and elsewhere in the Sierra Nevada, a winter storm system that moved in from the Northwest dumped up to 18 inches of snow, delaying thousands of Thanksgiving holiday motorists heading over mountain passes.

The Federal Aviation Administration repaired the equipment after the storm left up to 6 inches of snow in Reno and 18 inches at nearby Lake Tahoe. Pilots are guided by the system when visibility is poor.

Airport officials say over 4,000 passengers in all were affected by the equipment breakdown.

"It couldn't have happened at a worse time of the year," said airport spokesman Brian Kulpin. "You're talking about people who have to get back to work and people who have to get back to family."

The storm system moved into the western United States from Alaska, bringing snow and rain. In central California, where the National Weather Service issued an advisory for an expected hard freeze, officials said two people died Saturday in storm-related accidents.

In San Diego County, two hikers, including one with a broken leg, were rescued by helicopter Sunday morning in the Santa Rosa Mountains near Borrego Springs, a sheriff's dispatch supervisor said. High winds scuttled a rescue attempt Saturday, forcing the hikers to spend the night in the mountains.

Fifteen inches of snow fell in Wyoming and about 8 inches fell in southeastern Nebraska.

The storm system dropped up to three feet of snow in Colorado, with more expected in some areas. It was not immediately clear whether snow played a role in a plane crash Sunday in Montrose that killed at least two people.

Powder blanketed the field during the Denver Broncos game Sunday night against the Oakland Raiders.

Despite the bad weather, an official at Denver International Airport said there were only minor delays on one of the busiest travel days of the year.

The snow, which closed several of Colorado's most hair-raising mountain passes, was both a hazard and a lure for skiers and snowboarders.

"This is a birthday I won't forget," said Holly Escue, 38, of Waco, Texas. She and her group survived a mountain car wreck on a snowpacked road to get to the Crested Butte ski resort in the San Juan Mountains.

Even short trips were journeys for Coloradoans who ventured out on Sunday.

"It's been so long I can't remember when we've had this much snow. It was tough just getting up here from town two miles away," said snowboarder Josh Columbo of Crested Butte.