OKLAHOMA CITY: A fierce Christmas storm dumped snow and ice across the midsection of the U.S., stranding travellers as highways and airports closed and leaving many to celebrate the holiday just where they were. Some churches decided to cancel Christmas Eve services, while others saw sharply lower attendance.
Meteorologists predicted the slow-moving storm would glaze highways in the East with ice through Christmas night and that gusty thunderstorms would hamper the South.
An ice storm warning was issued for parts of the North Carolina mountains and West Virginia, while a wind chill advisory cautioned of temperatures as low as minus 30 Fahrenheit (minus 34 Celsius) in Montana.
The National Weather Service warned that blizzards would hit parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin on Christmas Day and into the evening.
Slippery roads have been blamed for at least 18 deaths as the storm moved east across the country from the Southwest.
Driving became so treacherous that authorities closed interstates in Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas to prevent further collisions.
The National Weather Service said the storm posed a threat to life and property. Officials warned travellers to stay home, and pack emergency kits if they had to set out. Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry declared a state of emergency.
Jonathan Cannon was spending the night at a Baptist church in Goldsby, Oklahoma after being stuck for several hours on a highway. He had left Sherman, Texas, a little after noon on Thursday hoping to join his wife in Edmond, Oklahoma — a trip that usually takes about three hours.
Mr. Cannon, a reporter at the Sherman Herald Democrat, said about 200 people — plus the dogs many travellers had with them in their cars — were in the church on Thursday night, with more possibly on the way.
He wasn’t sure if he would be able to finish his journey on Friday.
“This is mine and my wife’s first Christmas together, so she’s not very excited,” he said.
About 100 passengers and the same number of workers were stuck at Oklahoma’s largest airport, which closed on Thursday afternoon after several inches of snow clogged runways.
At least 70 flights were cancelled, said Mark Kranenburg, director of Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City. — AP