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Deadly winter storm snarls US holiday travel
by Staff Writers
Chicago (AFP) Dec 21, 2012

Nearly 200 killed in cold snap across Russia, eastern Europe
Moscow (AFP) Dec 21, 2012 - A vicious cold snap across Russia and eastern Europe has claimed nearly 200 lives, officials figures showed Friday, as forecasters warned it would last until Christmas Eve.

In Russia, the cold has killed two people in the past 24 hours, the Ria-Novosti agency reported, citing medical sources, bringing the total number of deaths over the past week to 56.

The freeze had also left 371 people in hospital.

Thermometers have been stuck below minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit) in Moscow -- and below minus 50 degrees (minus 58 F) in some parts of Siberia -- for a week.

Russian weather forecasters said temperature in the Khabarovsk region in eastern Russia had dropped to minus 43 Celsius, while Krasnoyarsk in Siberia reported minus 47.

This "abnormal" frost would last till Monday because of a persistent anticyclone, they added.

In Russia's European region, meanwhile, the mercury is expected to fall to minus 31 degrees Celsius on Christmas Eve before rising rapidly afterwards.

Other European countries hit hard by the extreme temperatures were counting the toll as temperatures gradually started to return to normal.

Authorities in Ukraine, which has been battling heavy snowfall for weeks, said 83 people had died of cold, with 57 of the victims found on the street.

The homeless are traditionally the hardest-hit by the region's bitter winters.

Another 526 cold victims were reportedly receiving hospital treatment in Ukraine.

Overnight temperatures in Ukraine reached an average minus 15 degrees Celsius, which is common at this time of year.

Ukrainian authorities said 93 villages -- mainly on the Crimean peninsula in the south of the country -- were still hit by a power outage.

In eastern Europe, police in Poland said Friday that 49 people had died of exposure this month, with most of the victims homeless, as temperatures plunged to minus 10 degrees Celsius.

At least six people have died of exposure in Lithuania in the past weeks, police and emergency services said there.

In Latvia, temperatures reached minus 14 Celsius on Friday morning. In the capital Riga, authorities decided to drop public transport fares to encourage drivers to leave their cars at home and prevent crashes and jams.

On Christmas Eve temperatures in Latvia are expected to drop to minus 28 Celsius, a record low.

In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, temperatures hovered around zero on Friday.

Czech police said several people had died of exposure in recent weeks, but no overall statistics were available for the country.

A deadly winter storm blanketed a huge swath of the United States Friday, grounding flights, turning highways into ice rinks and knocking out power to tens of thousands preparing for the Christmas holiday.

At least eight people in five states were killed by the dangerous road conditions since the storm formed near the Rocky Mountains and moved slowly eastward.

The powerful system dumped as much as two feet of snow (60 centimeters) in some areas and knocked down trees and power lines with winds gusting as high as 60 miles (100 kilometers) per hour.

Emergency shelters were opened to help those who lost power stay warm as utility crews struggled to reach downed lines on icy and snow-covered roads. Schools and government offices were closed, as were scores of businesses.

After pounding Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois and Missouri on Thursday, the storm was centered over the Great Lakes and Appalachians on Friday morning and was expected to reach New England on Saturday.

"Strong winds will cause blowing and drifting, causing near blizzard conditions and very dangerous driving conditions," the National Weather service warned.

"Only travel in an emergency."

Smaller systems also snarled travel in California, Nevada and Oregon while high winds grounded and delayed flights in New York.

Thankfully, on Friday, the busiest travel day of the year, skies were clear in Chicago -- where an estimated 266,000 people will pass through the major aviation hub.

More than 600 flights were canceled Thursday at Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports as the storm dumped freezing rain and a dusting of snow on runways and whipped up dangerously strong winds.

Hundreds more were canceled at smaller airports like Detroit, Minneapolis, and Kansas City, according to tracking service FlightAware.

Nearly 500 flights had been canceled by early afternoon Friday, primarily due to high winds in New York and San Francisco.

"This storm is not as large as some winter storms we've seen in the past that can result in thousands of cancelations in a day, but the impact is significant due to the number of holiday travelers," FlightAware chief Daniel Baker said.

More than 30,000 people remained without power in Wisconsin, where the governor declared a state of emergency and called up the National Guard to help rescue people stranded on snow-covered roads.

Two people were killed when their car slid into the path of a semi-trailer on a highway in Wisconsin's rural Rock County on Thursday, Channel 3000 news reported.

And an ambulance transporting a woman in labor got stuck on a Wisconsin highway at about 12:30 am Friday, the state's emergency management center said. A second ambulance sent to help also got stuck, so a snowplow was sent to drive in front of a third ambulance and get her safely to hospital.

In Iowa, two more people were killed and seven injured in a 25-vehicle pileup after conditions got so bad on a major highway Thursday that people couldn't see the cars and big trucks that had slowed down or stopped ahead of them, the State Patrol there said.

Dozens of people were also trapped in their cars, many for hours. One pileup was so bad emergency crews brought food and water to the stranded motorists while they waited for snow blowers and tow trucks to arrive.

Further west in Utah, one woman died of exposure after her car got stuck on an isolated road on Tuesday and she tried to walk out for help, KSL news reported. A man who was with her in the car was able to walk farther and reach shelter, but by the time rescue crews on snowmobiles found the woman she was dead.

And in Nebraska, two people were killed in separate crashes, KETV news reported. One man died after his car was struck by a big rig when blizzard conditions smothered a Kansas highway, the Dodge City Daily Globe reported.


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Major blizzard in US Midwest threatens holiday travel
Chicago (AFP) Dec 20, 2012
A massive and deadly winter snowstorm blanketed the US Midwest on Thursday, grounding hundreds of planes and making roads and highways impassable as travelers gear up for the Christmas holiday. The region's first big storm of the season dumped more than a foot (30 centimeters) of snow in parts of Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota overnight and more was expected as the powerful system moved slowl ... read more

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