At least 19 people die after a massive storm hits the US with blizzards and freezing rain bringing treacherous holiday travel conditions.
Holiday blizzards hit US
A massive winter storm forced scores of US churches to cancel Christmas services today as blizzards and freezing rain brought treacherous holiday travel conditions for millions of Americans. At least 19 deaths were attributed to the nasty storm system blanketing the central United States that began on Wednesday and is not expected to clear before Saturday. "This is a holiday mess," Chris Vaccaro, a spokesman for the National Weather Service, said yesterday about the second brutal winter blast to hit the United States in the past week. "The storm is spanning two thirds of the country," Mr Vaccaro said. "Its effects run the gamut from severe thunderstorms in the Gulf Coast to ice in New England to really what is a raging blizzard in the lower plains." The northern parts of the massive storm were expected to drop up to 61cm of snow by Christmas Day while blizzard warnings were issued from North Dakota to Texas. Churches in several states cancelled services for Christmas Day, citing the treacherous conditions, with local media outlets listing hundreds of closures. Pastor Andy Richie in Mankato, Minnesota, stressed that he wants people to stay safe. "Roads are bad. (We) don't want you coming out if you don't think you can make it back," he told local KEYC-TV. The eastern US seaboard was also in for dangerous travel conditions today and into the weekend, with forecasters alerting to freezing rain and heavy downpours from North Carolina to New England. Flood warnings were issued for parts of the northeast in anticipation of nominally rising temperatures later in the day, as snow melt begins following the record storms last weekend. In north Oklahoma "a band of very heavy snow along with isolated thunder... was producing up to four inches of snow per hour," the Oklahoma City National Weather Service field office warned. "Stay indoors until conditions improve. Only travel if absolutely necessary," the office said. In North Dakota, weather forecasters said snowfall would reach up to 41cm in some places, along with temperatures as low as minus 36 degrees Celsius. Flood and tornado warnings were issued further south with roads in the state of Alabama underwater, and freezing rain and ice storms also threatened the states of Pennsylvania, North Carolina, the Washington capital region and the Appalachian mountains. South Dakota, Texas and Oklahoma declared states of emergency and called up national guard troops to help dig out stranded travelers. "I am urging all Oklahomans to take winter storm precautions and stay off the roads unless travel is absolutely necessary," Governor Brad Henry said. The Kansas highway patrol reported five fatalities on the prairie state's icy roads. Six people died on Nebraska roads - including a Christian singer on his way home from a ministry training session and a fire captain - the Omaha World Herald reported. Three people were killed after a dust storm near Phoenix caused a 22-vehicle pileup, the Arizona Republic reported. Three others were killed on the slippery roads in New Mexico, and one person died in a Minnesota crash, local media reported. And along the southern US Gulf Coast, a powerful thunderstorm left one Louisiana man dead after a tree fell on his house, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported. Hundreds of flights were cancelled on Thursday at airports from Minneapolis to Dallas. It is the second major weather system to sweep the United States in recent days, after a record-breaking snowstorm slammed the eastern seaboard at the weekend. That storm created travel chaos and cut short sales on what were traditionally major shopping days ahead of Christmas. * AFP