CHICAGO (WLS) --Many drivers in northwest Indiana and the Illinois-Indiana border found themselves stranded overnight since the Wednesday evening commute after a blizzard dumped 12-15 inches of snow in northwest Indiana.
The Lake County Coroner confirmed Thursday evening that two men in their 60's died from heart attacks while shoveling snow.
NORTHWEST INDIANA PUMMELED BY SNOW
Porter County declared and then lifted a state of emergency Thursday. County officials say the travel ban is lifted, but drivers are encouraged to stay off the road unless absolutely necessary as many east-west county roads are still down to one lane.
LaPorte County also lifted its state of emergency.
NIPSCO officials said Thursday it may be several days before power is fully restored in northwest Indiana. As of 9:30 p.m. Thursday, 854 customers are still without power. Crown Point and Lowell in Lake County and communities in Porter County were hit the hardest.
NIPSCO says they are making good progress in restoring electricity but some customers might not have their power restored until Friday night or Saturday.
The Indiana Department of Transportation urged drivers to stay home Thursday because some roads are still covered in snow and others are very slick. State Road 2 opened shortly before 10 p.m. Primary routes are open but slushy and slick, but secondary roads are largely closed to traffic other than emergency vehicles.
Cars, trucks and work vehicles were abandoned along Belshaw Road in Lowell, Indiana, after they became stuck in the snow. Many drivers didn't realize snow drifts were as high as they were, and their misjudgment caused a chain reaction.
"We came through the back road on Belshaw, and once we got here to the open field the drivers in front of us, behind us, none of us realized it drifted so high. So it was a chain reaction," said Debbie Equihua. Though she lives only a mile and a half from where she became stuck, she spent the night in her Malibu.
Police and fire crews in Indiana responded to more than 200 slide-off crashes Wednesday. Thankfully, there were no fatalities. Many Good Samaritans also helped drivers get back on the road. And public works crews are working 12 hour shifts to clear the roads.
Dozens of schools are still closed Thursday. View the latest Chicago-area school closings HERE.
It wasn't bad for everyone; in another part of town, three children enjoyed their snow day as a tractor pulled them on a sled. As clean-up continued, kids and parents alike seemed to enjoy their snow day.
Elward Verrett and his son kept busy during the snow day, saying they appreciated the extra time together and the opportunity to accomplish many things.
"We got everything cleared out and we're happy with it. I had my helper come out and help dad because I don't want to be lifting too much snow and be out there and fall out and the snow, but he's a big help."
Those in the neighborhood appreciate the efforts to clear the sidewalks, especially mail carriers like Gloria Kelly.
"Really shovel because it's bad, it's bad. Trying to truck through and get the mail out, it's bad. So just shovel. Shovel, shovel, shovel. Please shove," Kelly says.
For all the headaches caused on the road, kids and parent alike seemed to enjoy taking advantage of a snow day.
"It's good packing snow, so it's good for making snowballs," said Drew Szafarzczyk. "Then you can roll them to make a snowman."
"Yeah it was kinda nice them getting to have the day off and spend a snow day with them and enjoy this snow," said his mother Carrie Szafarczyk. "We haven't had much this year so it was kind of nice to get outside and do some creative building,"
DRIVERS STUCK OVERNIGHT AT ILLINOIS-INDIANA BORDER
In Grant Park, Ill., east of Kankakee, drivers got stuck in two- to three-foot snow drifts along Route 17, which turns into State Road 2 in Indiana.
Barb Matthias was struck in her car for nearly 24 hours. Matthias said she was heading home from work around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday when a plow she was following got stuck in the snow and then another plow that came to help also got stuck, causing a chain reaction along Route 17.
"When I realized I wasn't going to get out that night, last night, I just climbed in the back seat and napped," Matthias said. "I wrapped myself in a blanket."
"I didn't really feel scared at all," she said. "I had my car running every so often when I got cold. I killed the time by looking at the scenery, talking on the phone, texting, listening to the radio for a while."
Grant Park Fire Lt. Matt Hipke said first responders checked on the people inside each vehicle stranded along Route 17 on Wednesday. He said some drivers chose to stay with their vehicles, trying to dig them out, while others chose to rest in warming centers set up by the fire department. None were seriously hurt or needed to go to the hospital.
Emergency responders used ATVs and four wheel drives to reach the stranded drivers. Route 17 is only open to local traffic in Illinois as clearing and recovery continues. On the Indiana side, it remains closed to through traffic.
Officials say no one was injured and Thursday's warmer temperatures and low winds helped with the cleanup effort immensely.
CHICAGO AIRPORTS IMPACTED BY STRONG WINDS
Across most of the Chicago area, very little snow accumulated as a result of Wednesday's storm. Southern Cook and Kankakee counties got the most snow, between 4 and 7 inches.
The biggest problem in Chicago was the wind. More than 1,200 flights were canceled at Chicago airports Wednesday, leaving many passengers stranded.
The Chicago Department of Aviation said 975 flights were canceled at O'Hare International Airport and 210 flights were canceled at Midway International Airport Wednesday. Many airlines issued travel waivers to passengers who needed to change flights.
Southwest Airlines canceled 400 flights across the country Wednesday due to severe weather. Southwest resumed its normal schedule around 5 a.m. Thursday.
As of 8:45 a.m. Thursday, operations were back to normal at O'Hare and Midway. Passengers said they did whatever they could to fly out Thursday.
Loressa Hall spent the morning on the phone with Spirit Airlines after her flight to Ft. Lauderdale was canceled Wednesday and Thursday. She was frustrated and angry.
"So Spirit is trying to charge me for an earlier flight, even though my flight yesterday was at 6:29 p.m. They canceled it for last night and then this morning it was canceled at 5:30 a.m.," Hall said.
Many travelers who had to re-book got on flights to their final destinations Thursday.
"I got a notification on my phone that the flights were canceled. We had to scramble to see when we could get out and we got on a flight this morning," said Rosemary Kosinski, a passenger.
"Every flight we tried to get on canceled, canceled, canceled. So I gave up my first class. I said, 'I'll try to get out of here anyway possible.' Nothing worked. Everything's on time today and I'm thankful to be getting on a plane. Unfortunately I'll be in the office by about 10 in the morning," said another passenger.
ABC7 Meteorologist Tracy Butler said weather conditions will be calmer in the Chicago area Thursday. It's still quite windy, but there is no snow expected. Thursday will be cloudy with high temperatures in the low 30s. Friday will be chilly with highs in the mid 30s, compared to the weekend, when highs are expected to reach 50 degrees.
CLICK HERE for the latest 7-day outlook from the First Alert Weather Team: