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Storms Bring Ice and Snow to Midwest

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

It's turning out to be a dark Christmas Eve for quite a few homes around the Midwest. Thousands of people are still without power after the big snow and ice storm that passed through over the weekend. At least 19 deaths are blamed on the weather. Road and air travel have also been disrupted.

And as NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports, Amarillo, Texas had one of the worst weather-related traffic accidents over the weekend.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Interstate 40 was closed for most of the day Saturday when a truck jackknifed and blocked the highway in whit-out conditions. As many as a hundred cars ended up in a huge chain reaction accident. The police said many of the cars are still littering the shoulders of the Texas road today.

Corporal JERRY NEUFELD (Public Information officer, Amarillo Police Department): Honestly, we really don't know. We're still going through it, trying to find out whose vehicle was what, who was in what vehicle. It was just a big mess. It was just a disaster.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Corporal Jerry Neufeld is the public information officer for the police department.

Cpl. NEUFELD: When you have, you know, anywhere from 70 to a hundred vehicles with numerous people in every vehicle, it does get to be quite chaotic. We were several hours in clearing up the Interstate before it was able to be reopened. We've had, you know, pileups before. And we've had 20 and 30 cars involved in pileups, no doubt, over the years. I can't remember one of this size in the last 25 years that I have been here.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Texas wasn't alone. White-out conditions caused multicar accidents on I-70 outside of Topeka, Kansas and I-29 in Missouri as well. The high winds and snow caused airport delays across the nation's midsection.

The National Weather Service clock gushed of more then 88 miles an hour over Lake Michigan over the weekend; that grounded some 300 flights at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. The cancellations had people scrambling to get other flights before Christmas.

But Gregg Cunningham, spokesman for the Chicago Department of Aviation, said by this morning, most of the stranded were gone.

Mr. GREGG CUNNINGHAM (Spokesman, Department of Aviation, Chicago): This morning, airlines are busy rebooking passengers on flights to get them to their destinations. We have a favorable weather forecast for air travel today. And a lower volume of passengers expected at both airports. So we are confident that operations will run smoothly throughout the day at both O'Hare and Midway.

TEMPLE-RASTON: As difficult as it had been for holiday travelers to get to their destinations, the good news is that the return trip will likely be easier. Texas has clear and cold conditions today; Chicago expects the same for the rest of the week. But the Department of Aviation's Gregg Cunningham is cautious.

Mr. CUNNINGHAM: Our approach is usually to take a day by day look at what's going to happen that particular day and prepare the best we can.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Transportation officials expect today and tomorrow will be light travel days because most people will stagger their trips home over the next week.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Dina Temple-Raston is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories and national security, technology and social justice.