Big storm leaves trouble in its wake

CHICAGO — A huge winter storm left dangerously slick roads and frigid Midwestern temperatures in its frozen footprint Thursday.

Three people were killed when the pickup they were in drove off a snow-covered Oklahoma interstate and plunged 80 feet into an icy river. Wind chills dipped to nearly 30 below in parts of the nation's midsection as the region began dealing with the storm's aftermath.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley spoke publicly for the first time to defend his city's handling of the storm, which stranded hundreds of motorists in whiteout conditions on the famous Lake Shore Drive. In a city known for punishing politicians for winter weakness, the retiring Daley said when pressed that he wouldn't have handled anything differently and that workers responded well.

"Yes, they did ... They did a very, very good job," Daley said. Lake Shore reopened before dawn Thursday.

The sprawling system unloaded as much as 2 feet of snow across its 2,000-mile path, crippling airports and stranding drivers from Texas to South Dakota, where authorities rescued some motorists from more than 150 vehicles that had become trapped overnight after high winds sent fallen snow drifting onto an interstate in the northeast part of the state. Icy roads were blamed for a 15-vehicle chain-reaction crash in southeastern Louisiana that resulted in a few minor injuries.

Even the sunny Southwest wasn't spared: Freezing temperatures delayed Thursday's opening round of the Phoenix Open in Scottsdale, Ariz., and led to school closures in parts of New Mexico.

Authorities in northeast Oklahoma said the pickup that drove into the Spring River on Thursday jumped a guard rail on I-44 shortly before dawn while carrying eight people.

The vehicle became partially submerged, and harsh weather made rescue attempts difficult.

"The ground temperature was 11 degrees below zero, so it would take only a second to become hypothermic in this water and ice," said Lt. George Brown, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Highway Department.