Storm Wreaks Havoc on Holiday Travel

A sloppy storm dumped more than a year's worth of snow on parts of the Midwest and made a mess of holiday travel and last-minute Christmas shopping Thursday. More than a dozen traffic deaths were blamed on the storm.

The heavy snowfall and icy roads stranded motorists, delayed flights ahead of a holiday weekend in which a record 62 million were expected to travel and threw gift package deliveries into disarray for the nation's three largest package shippers.

National Guardsmen rescued more than 100 motorists who had been stranded overnight along a snowy 25-mile stretch of Interstate 64 (search) in southwestern Indiana, and were looking for more people stuck.

"I was scared, wondering about the kids. How was I going to feed them?" said Mary Craddock, a 28-year-old waitress from Hartford, Ky., who was stranded on the interstate in Evansville, Ind.

Her car was out of gas, and she and her two children had finished their only food — a bag of potato chips — as they waited it out. Temperatures in Evansville dipped into the teens and Wednesday's snowfall of 19.3 inches topped the city's average total winter snowfall of 14.2 inches.

In Kentucky, dozens of travelers were stranded overnight along Interstates 71 and 24. Motorists on I-71 bunked down in the lobby and hallways at the Best Western Executive Inn at Carrollton. Weary travelers were sprawled across chairs in the dining room, others curled up in corners or under stairs, using rolled-up towels as pillows.

Paducah, Ky., received 14 inches of snow, topping the yearly average of 10 inches and doubling its previous one-day record. In some parts of south-central Kentucky, the ice was 2 to 4 inches thick.

"This is a storm you might see two or three of these in your adult life," said David Humphrey, a National Weather Service (search) meteorologist in Paducah.

The winter weather hampered efforts to wrap up holiday shopping.

Kashiba Allen was one of the few shoppers who made it to Cincinnati's nearly deserted downtown, where many stores and restaurants were shut down early Thursday. The 14-year-old girl took a bus downtown to finish her Christmas shopping.

"I wouldn't have come down if I didn't have to finish my shopping," she said. "There were cars stuck all over the roads. For the first time I sort of glad I'm too young to drive."

Ellen Tolley, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation (search), the world's largest retail trade association, said sales may have stalled in areas hit with heavy snow, but the wintry weather may put others in a holiday shopping mood.

In Arkansas, last-minute shoppers continued their quests despite shuttered stores and restaurants and snarling traffic. They turned out by the thousands at McCain Mall in North Little Rock.

"We are packed," said Lisa Meyer, director of mall marketing. "The mall is open except for a couple of stores, small shops."

Electric companies in Ohio said 360,000 homes and businesses there were without power, mostly around the Columbus area. Company officials said some customers may not see power until Friday or even Saturday.

In Whitehall, Ohio, accountant Dan McGrew fired up his propane heater, took out a sleeping bag and put in a call to an outdoorsy friend. "Hopefully, he'll have some tips for me," he said.

Flights were delayed or canceled at Ohio's Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati airports as crews struggled to clear runways and deice planes.

AAA (search) is predicting this will be the busiest holiday travel season ever, in part because Christmas and New Year's Eve fall on weekends this year. AAA spokesman Mantill Williams said nearly 51 million people are traveling by car.

The storm snarled hit the hubs of operations for the nation's three largest package shippers, throwing holiday gift package deliveries into disarray.

Atlanta-based UPS Inc. said its employees would work through the night Thursday and late Friday to deliver as many packages as possible before Christmas, while Memphis, Tenn.-based FedEx Corp. urged customers to track their packages on the company's Web site. DHL, a unit of German postal service Deutsche Post AG, said the weather had delayed many deliveries by a day or two.

Four people were killed in weather-related traffic accidents in Oklahoma, three each in Ohio and Arkansas, and one each in New Mexico, Texas and western New York. A 76-year-old woman in Ohio died of an apparent heart attack while shoveling snow; four people in Michigan died after shoveling snow or digging out.