Massive storm drops ice, snow on Plains

MINNEAPOLIS — A blustery storm spread snow and ice across the heartland Thursday as Americans rushed to get home for the holidays, grounding flights, stranding drivers on white-knuckle highways and forcing churches to cancel Christmas Eve services.

"I don't think God wants anyone to get killed or break a hip or break a knee or something," said the Rev. Joseph Mirowski of the Greek Orthodox Transfiguration of Our Lord Church in Mason City, Iowa, where up to a foot of snow and sleet was expected.

A foot or two of snow was forecast in parts of the Plains and the Midwest by today. Blizzard warnings were issued for Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma , South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin, and drivers were encouraged to pack emergency kits before setting out during what is normally one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

The storm was also expected to glaze highways in the East with ice today.

Slippery roads were blamed for at least 14 deaths this week as the slow-moving storm made its way across the country from the Southwest.

The snowstorm also put the brakes on some last-minute Christmas shopping. At the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., some shoppers had entire stores to themselves.

High winds blowing snow across icy roads were a concern elsewhere. Interstates were closed in Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas. Texas Gov. Rick Perry activated military personnel to help drivers. North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven placed additional state troopers and the National Guard on standby.

The storm closed Oklahoma's biggest airport. Mark Kraneneberg, a spokesman for Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, said there were about 100 stranded passengers and some airport employees were stuck as well.

Nearly 100 flights from the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport were canceled by midday. By late afternoon, though, a spokesman said most flights were getting out. Two-hour-plus delays were reported at Houston's Hobby Airport, and Chicago's O'Hare had hourlong delays and more than 30 cancellations.

The Rev. Roger Claxton canceled Christmas Eve services at Grace Memorial Episcopal Church in Wabasha, Minn., after the area got at least 8 inches of snow. Claxton feared his congregation's senior citizens would feel compelled to attend.

"I'd rather have people stay home than do their funerals in a couple weeks," he said.

The Rev. Mark Kelm told parishioners to stay home if they didn't feel safe, though he planned to hold services even if he was the only one there at St. John in the Wilderness Episcopal Church in White Bear Lake, a suburb of St. Paul, Minn.

"If I have to make it on cross-country skis, I'll be here," Kelm said. "The best way I can explain it is, it's just like a pregnant woman — if the baby is coming, the baby is coming. For us, the Christ child is going to be celebrated."