Plane skids off runway at O'Hare

Travelers hunker down for Christmas at airport
CHICAGO The family from Vancouver, Wash., tried to fly out of Portland, Ore., on Sunday, but a blast of snow and ice kept them from getting a flight for two days. On Wednesday evening, they hunkered down for their second night at O'Hare, awaiting a Christmas Day flight to Miami, where they hoped to catch a Caribbean cruise on Saturday.

"It stinks," said 11-year-old Samantha Waltz. "We're playing cards to get our mind off of things."

The Waltzes were not alone. More than 100 flights were canceled Wednesday at O'Hare, the nation's second busiest airport, as airports across the country recovered from winter storms.

Complicating matters, an American Airlines plane hit an icy patch while turning onto a runway at O'Hare and slid sideways into the grass. There were no injuries, and 54 passengers were to be put on other Christmas Eve flights.

Though cancellations dropped off from more than 500 a day earlier and delays were shortened to about 30 minutes, airlines at O'Hare still requested 75 cots for passengers Wednesday night, said Greg Cunningham, a Chicago aviation department spokesman.

Conditions improved elsewhere, but highways remained dangerously slippery in some areas. Nationwide, at least 30 people were killed Tuesday and Wednesday in crashes on rain- and ice-slickened roads, many in the country's midsection.

The National Weather Service posted winter storm warnings and advisories for large parts of the West early Thursday.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a winter storm emergency Wednesday as city and county officials struggled to keep up with record or near-record levels of snowfall in 30 of the state's 39 counties.

Temperatures rose and light rain fell across the western part of the state Wednesday night, melting some of the ice on roads, but forecasters said 2 more inches of snow was likely in the Seattle area on Christmas Day.

Unrelenting winter weather was predicted to continue in the Cascades and the eastern half of the state. Spokane was expected to get 5 to 7 inches of snow atop a heavy layer that accumulated during weeks of storms.

In Portland, Ore., a snowstorm forecasters called the worst since 1980 turned to rain on Wednesday, after bringing a foot or more of snow to the northern end of the Willamette Valley last weekend.

Amtrak also reported improvement Wednesday. Trains out of Chicago and elsewhere were leaving on time -- or relatively close to it -- unlike Tuesday when several trains were canceled and some 600 furious travelers waited for up to 22 hours for delayed trains at Chicago's Union Station, spokesman Marc Magliari said.

On Wednesday, an avalanche in the Rocky Mountains killed two snowmobilers in northern Utah. The Utah Avalanche Center warned people not to venture into the backcountry.

Slick roads Tuesday and Wednesday were blamed for seven deaths in Wisconsin, five in Ohio, four each in Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri, two in Kansas and one apiece in Oklahoma, Iowa, Massachusetts and West Virginia.

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