Friday, August 24, 2007

Storms play havoc with travel in Midwest, Southeast

(CNN) -- Severe weather in the U.S. Midwest and Southeast overnight bedeviled air traffic, knocked out power to large sections of Chicago, Illinois, and pushed rivers and streams out of their banks.

Flood watches and warnings were posted Thursday night and Friday for parts of Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio.

Thousands of passengers at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport were significantly delayed early Friday as 90 percent of departures were running late or very late overnight.

More than 500 flights out of the city's two main airports were canceled Thursday due to severe weather, and more delays could be expected Friday as thunderstorms remained in the forecast.

The weather also cut power to parts of the O'Hare complex, witnesses said Friday, following a day when severe thunderstorms moving slowly through Chicago knocked out power to more than 300,000 customers. Video Watch lightning light up the Chicago skyline »

The storms kept people huddled inside businesses -- including taverns -- in Chicago.

"It was out of control," bartender Nick McCann told The Associated Press. "People would not leave. ... We had $2 margaritas, and people were getting hammered."

An Air France flight from Paris to Chicago was diverted to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where passengers became restive while being forced to wait on the plane for seven hours, CNN affiliate WISN reported.

"Forcing us to sit seven hours on a plane and not even let us sit in here [the airport terminal] while they sort it out; leaving us on a non-air-conditioned plane for seven hours until they got customs people here was unforgivable," a passenger told WISN.

Passengers also got stuck on a plane for hours in Georgia.

In Atlanta, a major hub for Delta Air Lines, thunderstorms tied up air traffic, forcing authorities to divert more than 30 planes to nearby airports, a company spokeswoman said.

"The weather has been a nightmare with diversions," Delta spokeswoman Susan West said.

Scores of passengers on a flight from the Dominican Republic to Atlanta were kept on board a Delta MD-88 for more than five hours after being rerouted to Columbus, Georgia.

Bryan Pettigrew, a passenger on Flight 242, said that after his plane landed, refueled and was taxiing to the gate, its wing clipped a nearby Boeing 757.

"There were a lot of [planes] in a small area ... and, as the plane was being positioned, the wing of Flight 242 grazed the nose of a 757," West said.

No one was injured and the larger 757 was undamaged, West said. Delta eventually sent another plane to ferry the passengers to Atlanta.

Nashville International Airport in Tennessee also had weather problems overnight, with up to 80 percent of its flights running late or very late.

Another round of severe thunderstorms was forecast to hit from the Texas panhandle to the Great Lakes on Friday.

Rain and thunderstorms were possible for much of the United States on Friday, with severe thunderstorms and flash flooding a threat again across the upper Midwest, according to the National Weather Service.

As much as 4 inches of rain was possible in the Chicago area, according to the AP.

Temperatures in the mid-90s were expected across the nation's midsection.

A 7-month-old baby in St. Louis, Missouri, and a 2-year-old toddler near Cincinnati, Ohio, died Thursday after being left in hot cars, CNN affiliate WLWT reported.

Cincinnati public schools canceled classes Thursday and Friday as temperatures flirted with 100 degrees, WLWT reported.

After touring flood-stricken Findlay and other towns Thursday in northwest Ohio, Gov. Ted Strickland said, "Mother Nature was not kind to us." Photo See images of flooding from all over »

Bucyrus, Ohio, endured 9 inches of rain in about a 24-hour period, he said.

Strickland has declared an emergency in nine counties and promised to ask the federal government for assistance.

"The major problem was a decision of Mother Nature to pour large amounts of water on this region and other regions across our country in a very short period of time," Strickland said. See tips for surviving floods »

The Des Moines River rose after 5½ inches of rain pounded central Iowa. Streets flooded in Lehigh, Iowa, leaving several homes isolated, CNN affiliate KCCI reported.

"You want it to stop, but I guess we're pretty good-natured about the whole deal, but, you know, what do you do? You can't control it," Lehigh homeowner Mark Johnson told KCCI as his dog swam around.

Mary Lovejoy of Omaha, Nebraska, ended up sleeping with her grandchildren in a park after storms ripped the roof off her house, CNN affiliate KETV reported. Rain pouring through the roof ruined most of the family's possessions, including their clothes, and their food spoiled during a power outage, Lovejoy told the station.

A local church gave her $20 to buy groceries, but it didn't go very far.

"That's what I'm worried about, is getting them food and getting them their school clothes and stuff and trying to get back some of the stuff we lost," a tearful Lovejoy told KETV.

President Bush declared a major disaster in three Minnesota counties Thursday, making federal funding available to flood victims.

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