US digs out from epic winter storm

The storm buried more than a third of the US in drifting snow, sleet and ice.

Updated: Feb 03, 2011, 10:39 AM IST

New York: Millions of Americans dug out from an epic winter storm that buried more than a third of the United States in drifting snow, sleet and ice that ground air and road travel to a halt.

The storm -- one of the largest since the 1950s -- stretched for more than 3,000 kilometres (2,000 miles) from Texas to the northeastern state of Maine, and forecasters warned that trying to get around could be deadly.

"The extreme conditions are making it extremely difficult for rescue personnel to reach the stranded," the National Weather Service warned. Before driving, it added, "ask yourself if getting to your destination is worth risking your life”.

Blizzard, winter storm, freezing rain and wind chill warnings were issued for more than 30 of the 50 US states, and thunderstorms, tornadoes and driving rain drenched the warmer, southern end of the storm in Louisiana and Mississippi.

States of emergency were declared in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Oklahoma and the National Guard was called out to help rescue stranded motorists.

"This was a massive storm and it was diverse," National Weather Service deputy director Laura Furgione said.

Snow drifts topped 3.05 m (10 feet) in some areas with snowfalls topping 25 to 41 centimetres (10 to 20 inches) in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Kansas, Massachusetts, and New York.

Officials in New York city asked drivers to stay off the roads. Amtrak suspended train service between New York and Philadelphia because of electrical problems, and cancelled many runs in the Chicago area.

In Chicago -- one of the hardest hit by the storm after near-hurricane force winds sucked more moisture off Lake Michigan -- firefighters used snowmobiles to navigate the streets.

"It`s amazing -- it`s such a huge city and it`s silent," said school teacher Elana Hiller who waded through hip-deep snow along Chicago`s lakeshore on Wednesday morning.

"It`s like heaven out here. Everything is white and fresh and quiet."

Schools were closed for the first time in 12 years in the Windy City, known for scoffing at the kind of wintery weather that cripples less hardy cities.

Schools closed for a second day on Thursday as many Chicago streets remained impassable. Some 53 cm (20.9 inches) of snow had been dumped on Chicago by midday Wednesday -- the third biggest snowfall on record.

Neighbours banded together to dig out cars and clear sidewalks as a festive mood settled on the city.

Bureau Report