CHICAGO – Utility crews worked overtime Saturday to restore electrical service to thousands of customers still blacked out by the Midwest's first big snowstorm of the season.
As temperatures plummeted below freezing in the storm's aftermath, officials said some people could be without power for days. Missouri National Guard teams went door-to-door in the St. Louis area to make sure residents were surviving the cold.
The storm was blamed for at least 13 deaths as it spread ice and deep snow from Texas to Michigan and then blew through the Northeast late Friday and early Saturday. Schools and businesses were shuttered and hundreds of airline passengers had been stranded by canceled flights.
Trees were blown onto homes and cars, and a big Christmas tree in front of the New Hampshire Statehouse was toppled.
Truck driver David Huwe just got his 18-wheeler and load of frozen food back on the road Saturday after being stuck for more than 12 hours at a rest stop near Princeton, Ill., on Interstate 80, which was blocked by scores of trucks and cars that slid off the icy highway.
"I was supposed to be (in California) Sunday night," Huwe said by cell phone Saturday morning. He had revised his arrival time and hoped he'd make it by Monday.
Red Cross volunteers at Decatur had helped out some of those stranded I-80 travelers by ordering 100 McDonald's hamburgers, which were then airlifted by the National Guard.
"We had 35 minutes from the time we got the call to the airlift," Deb Helm said. McDonald's "was what was available."
Many areas of Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri got more than a foot of snow, including 16 inches in parts of central Missouri and 17 at Manistee, Mich. As far south as Oklahoma, Tulsa measured more than 10 inches.
Airlines were recovering from the widespread cancelations caused by the storm; delays at Lambert Airport in St. Louis were generally 15 minutes or less Saturday, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. There were no measurable delays Saturday at Chicago's two major airports, said Wendy Abrams, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Aviation.
Highways were mostly clear but still had icy spots. "Nobody really should travel unless you absolutely have to get out," Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt said.
Chicago sent out about 170 snow-removal trucks Saturday morning to clear the city's side streets, after clearing main roads Friday.
More than 464,000 Ameren Corp. customers were without power in Missouri and Illinois on Saturday afternoon, along with about 500 customers of ComEd in the greater Chicago area.
"It could be days before it's fully restored because it's really treacherous out there," Ameren spokeswoman Susan Gallagher said.
Blunt dispatched 150 Missouri National Guardsmen to the St. Louis region, along with 30 Humvees and a number of trucks. "We want to make sure our citizens are safe, warm and well cared-for," said Ed Martin, the governor's chief of staff.
As the storm moved east, gusty wind blacked out more customers from Tennessee to New York. About 20,000 homes and businesses were still without power Saturday across upstate New State. More than 25,000 waited for power in Michigan. In Pennsylvania, more than 19,000 homes, mostly in the western part of the state, had no electricity, state Emergency Management Agency spokesman Justin Fleming said.
The wind also blew the windows out of Mr. Z's Food Mart in Mountain Top, Pa., and about a half-dozen people suffered minor injuries, fire officials said.
"The windows were shaking and they just exploded. Everybody was screaming," said Food Mart cashier Breanne Ralston, 17.
Two women were killed in Pennsylvania, one by a falling tree and another by a wind-blown section of roof, and another falling tree landed on a house and killed one person in New York, authorities said. Two men over the age of 60 died after shoveling snow in Wisconsin, and an 87-year-old woman died in the St. Louis areas in a house fire that started when an ice-laden tree limb fell on a power line, fire officials said.
Storm-related traffic deaths included two in Missouri, one in Kansas and one in Oklahoma. Near Paducah, Texas, a vehicle carrying high school girls' basketball players overturned on an icy highway, killing a 14-year-old player and injuring seven other people.
In Illinois, a woman died after being struck by a snow plow that was backing up, and a 67-year-old man died after using a hand saw to cut fallen tree limbs.